One of the major themes of Advent is light in the darkness. We see that symbolized each week in the Advent wreath. We start with a lone candle burning in the dark. Then, paradoxically, as our days grow shorter and darker, the light grows stronger each week as more candles are lit. Finally, on Christmas the wreath is ablaze with the light of God.
Yesterday those Advent themes of light and dark played out in our nation in three separate events. We know all about the darkness, of course. We have been living it all year as the coronavirus has raged across our nation and around the world. Yesterday that darkness hit a milestone — 300,000 deaths in this country, a number that is likely under reported.
To put that in perspective, 300,000 is the population of St. Louis or Cincinnati. It is far more than the total of American deaths in World War I, the Korean, Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq wars combined. Only World War II (405,309) and the Civil War (665,000) have seen more American deaths. And the number of Covid deaths is expected to grow exponentially in the coming weeks as a million new cases are recorded every four or five days.
But as we passed this grim milestone yesterday there were also beams of light. One was the rolling out of the first Covid vaccines, which are first being given to health care workers across the country. That vaccines have been developed so quickly truly is a miracle. We thank God for the gift of dedicated scientists! Hopes are high that by this summer we will all have access to the vaccine.
The second beam of light was from the Electoral College, which yesterday affirmed what any Americans who deal in facts have already known for the last five weeks — that Joe Biden is the president-elect. The pandemic has been much worse because of our current president’s lies and lack of leadership. Tens of thousands of Americans have died needlessly. Having a president who deals in truth and facts, respects science, and sets a positive example of how to live safely in the midst of a pandemic will be a great light in the darkness.
Darkness and despair. Light and hope. We live with both realities. The trick is to acknowledge both and keep them in balance. When we are discouraged, frightened, and tired of following Covid protocols it is important to remember that this situation is not forever, that there is light at the end of the tunnel.
But it is equally important to remember that it’s a long tunnel and though we can see the light, it is still in the distance. As Kate McKinnon, playing her Saturday Night Live character Dr. Wenowdis, said last Saturday, “The light at the end of the tunnel has shown us how stinky and bad the tunnel really is.” And we are still in it. That means not letting down our guards, always wearing a mask when we’ve away from home, avoiding gatherings of family and friends, even at Christmas. None of these things are easy, but they are necessary to help us reach the light.
A prayer that we have been saying in Compline and on Sunday mornings this Advent sums up our current situation well. “We are your people, walking in darkness, yet seeking the light. To you we say, ‘Come, Lord Jesus!'”