This morning, when I got back from my run, John had the news on, and I walked into the room just in time to see a nurse in NYC receive one of the first Corona virus vaccines. And, I’m not going lie, I choked up a bit. There it was: undeniable and irrefutable–a tangible sign of hope. A promise that even though I didn’t get to see my dad and stepmom this year, I will get to see them next year. A sign that even though loved ones died this year, they won’t die next year, at least not from COVID. An invitation to book that trip that got cancelled this year, and to plan an extra special birthday/graduation/celebration to make up for the ones we missed out on this year. [Add your own examples here.] That moment–that one little dose–is confirmation that next year will not be like this year; change is coming, change for the better: a return to hugs, in-person meetings, concerts, safe in-building worship, and occasions for dressing up and going out is on the way.
This welcome sign of light at the end of the tunnel comes just as we enter the third week of Advent, as our time of expectant waiting ripens, and even in our waiting, we can see–though still dimly–Christmas, just on the horizon. In the metaphor that many people have used to describe these awful Covid-tainted months–we are running a race whose length we do not know–the finish line actually seems to be coming into view. [And those of you who are runners know how GREAT that feels at the end of a long, exhausting race; when you turn that corner and see off in the distance the balloons, the platform and the big sign. We’re almost there.]
This year, our Advent readings come from John, but in this moment, I couldn’t help but think about the text from Matthew for this Sunday, which we read in a different year. In that text, Matthew 11:-2-11, John sends his disciples to ask Jesus if he is the one they have been waiting for, or if they should keep waiting; and this is how Jesus answers:
Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.”
Jesus basically says, “Don’t just take my word for it, look around–what do you see? The signs of the kingdom of God are breaking in; the good news has arrived.” And, frankly, that vaccine felt like the most welcome piece of good news we have had in a long time. The wait really is coming to an end; and while we are not there yet, and we will have to hang on in our waiting a little longer–being vigilant, making sacrifices, wearing masks–finally we can see, though still dimly, the finish line.
For those of you who are Christians, I know that you will not be celebrating Christmas the way you usually do this year; no one imagined back in March that we would lose Easter and Christmas, too. But here we are. I’m sorry for all of us, for all we will lose this year, all that will not be, all that we will not get back.
But, my friends, loss does not have the final word this year–that vaccine, that one moment guarantees that. And sometimes, just one moment–one sign, one messenger, one light–is enough.