The Metaverse is Web 3.0, the next step in the development of the Internet. The evolution of the Internet as a private data sharing network for scientists with its clumsy modem to its user-friendly browser user-friendly interface has been very rapid. Web 1.0 is when the webpages are static and we can only read off them. We cannot interact with them by adding or subtracting. Then came Web 2.0 which was a marvellous interactive experience. We can edit, produce, and chat using that technology. There was a proliferation of chat groups that lead to blogs, personal websites, add sound and video, and social media such as Facebook and Twitter. Web 2.0 for all its benefits is still 2-D. It still remains on the screen. Web 3.0 or Metaverse is 3-D. Content with which we can interact is no longer flat. It is now 3-dimensional. The movie Ready Player One is a good visualization of what Metaverse is. In the first half of this article, I will describe what Metaverse is and then I will share some implications this will have on Christians and the Church.
Welcome to the Metaverse Metaverse should not be confused with multiverses which is a scientific concept that there are more than one universe, or the comics and science fiction stories that are so popular in stories, television, and movies. In fact, the name the Metaverse was coined by a science fiction writer Neal Stephenson in his 1992 novel Snow Crash. In that novel, Stephenson built a virtual computer world which he called the Metaverse for his hero, Milo, a hacker to have his adventures in. Twenty years later, Stephenson’s the Metaverse became a reality in Web 3.0. Stephenson’s Metaverse is so uncannily accurate that Facebook Corporation took the tactical step of rebranding itself as Meta thus copyrighting the name and concept for themselves.
The Metaverse exist is because of the rapid development of Artificial Intelligence (AI). Initial AI is nothing more than a glorified calculator with enormous data storage capability. When the AI in the computer Deep Blue beat chess grandmaster Gary Kasparov in 1997, it was done by examining 200 million chess positions per second. Deep Blue has enormous memory storage of millions of chess games. What became more interesting is when it is discovered that AI can be programmed to learn and to discover new ways of learning. This was called machine learning. Al Alpha Zero was given only the rules of chess and programmed to play itself to win. Within 6 hours, the AI has taught itself so well that it was able to beat a human grandmaster! Computer scientists admit they no longer understand AI learning so it is now named Deep Learning. Subsequently, new AI chess engines were so powerful that it was matched against other AI rather than humans. AI Leela Chess Zero is the present world champion in 2020. The extraordinary computing power of AI in deep learning in problem-solving and the development of new ideas is the foundation of the rise of the Metaverse. Basically, the Metaverse is composed of four main components: (1) augmented reality, (2) lifelogging, (3), mirror worlds, and (4) virtual reality.
Augmented reality is the technology to superimpose a virtual world onto the real physical world. Google Glass is an example of a wearable augmented reality device. The person wearing the glass can see the real world but also see information or image superimposed in their vision. Those who have played the game using the mobile phone Pokemon Go will have seen life-like Pokemon in their visual space. Another useful use of augmented reality is for online shopping. If you want to buy a sofa and are not sure where to place it in your living room, you can download the program, switch on your phone camera and you can place the sofa (virtual) in your living room (through your camera). You can move the sofa around and see how it fits in with your other furniture and decorations. These are only a few applications of augmented reality. Its applications in surgery, engineering, factories, and keeping us connected are limitless.
Lifelogging is the storing of personal data. For decades we have been storing our digital data since the advent of social media. Our postings, comments, photos, audio, and videos are part of the internet. Never before have so large a part of humanity been willing to reveal their most intimate details to a global audience. Many have abandoned journal writing to document every minute of their waking (and some live stream themselves sleeping) moments in their Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Whatsapp, Telegrams and photos storage. The internet has enough data and information on each one of us to build a detailed persona, digital person, or avatar. Real-life applications are in healthcare where our lifestyle choices, healthcare risk, and medical histories are available to our doctors, employers and insurance companies. The creation of our avatar or our digital self is of especial interest in the mirror worlds.
The mirror world in the Metaverse is not actually a mirror reflection of REALITY (our real world, the one we are living in) but a digitalized duplicate of REALITY made up of ones and zeros. AI is building up this mirror world even as you read this. All the Google and Apple mapping data goes into the geospatial data of this world, all the Google Books and Library of Congress scans, eBooks and digital documents add to the database of knowledge. The internet is the largest database of knowledge since life began on earth. Every photo, selfie, and podcast broadcast contributed. Alexa, Assistant, and Siri provided invaluable uploads. So did spyware, state surveillance data, and trillions of bureaucratic forms created every day. This mirror world is in use in designing autonomous driving cars and trucks for these vehicles are actually moving in a digital rather than a real world. Other real-world applications include the use of robotics in factories, hospitals, and shipyards. The cute autonomous robots which deliver the case file in a hospital or the autonomic robot ‘police’ that enforce good behaviour in the streets of Singapore moves in a mirror world. Second Life is a popular computer game in which we can create an avatar to represent us and interact with other avatars in a virtual world. Online programs have evolved into complex social experiments. Avatars (humans) are developing a civilization. They are building houses, developing businesses, getting married, and nurturing communities. It will only be a matter of time when we can move into the Metaverse or the mirror world using our own avatar based on our lifelogging. This technology is already here. It is called virtual reality.
Virtual reality (VR) is moving into a constructed digital world and interacting with the objects in that world as we do in the real world. It is a 360° total immersion experience. The first popular real-world use of VR by the billion dollars gaming industry. VR games using VR devices such as Occulus and Playstation VR set allowed players to play total immersive VR games in their own living rooms. Other real-world VR uses are in training and education. Pilots are trained how to fly planes, soldiers in how to fight, and surgeons on how to operate in a totally immersive experience. The Metaverse or Web 3.0 when it began to migrate to our workstation or home entertainment or houses will be a fruitful experience. We have been interacting with 2-D objects when we are in fact 3-D beings. It would not be a shocking revelation as gaming and movies makers using CG has already introduced us to 3-D screens and the virtual world.
Concerns of Christians in the Metaverse
Metaverse or Web 3.0 is the next logical development of the internet. It should not raise much alarm to Christians as it is just technology as much as the computer, the plough, or the printing press. Human beings are called to be creators using the materials of the created world. We are also called to be stewards of the created order. Technology is created to make our lives better. Indeed it has. We now live longer, starve less, are healthier, and have more comforts than our ancestors. Christians are not Luddites. In fact, the technology which is the printing press played a large role in the reformation of the Christian church. Christian concerns about the Metaverse be divided into the following: (1) Artificial Intelligence, (2) Identity, (3) Worship, (4) Hospitality, and (5) The Gospel.
Artificial Intelligence is the elephant in the room for most Christians. Nowadays most major projects are designed by AI rather than human minds. Models of climate change, Wall Street financial transactions, and even Major Newspaper articles are written by AI. The genie is already out of the lamp. I have written about AI here. Yet, many Christians are ambivalent about AI. This ambivalent is fueled by science fiction stories and movies (Skynet in the Terminator series) about AI deciding to kill all humans on earth or enslaving humans as battery sources (Matrix movies), and wanting to be God (Star Trek Original Series). This negative perception is not negated by the perception that AI may be benevolent (movie Transcendence, Isaac Asimov’s Robot and Foundation series). These, we must be reminded, are mere speculations, no facts. So far, there is no evidence that AI are not what they are: very smart technology to achieve what they are programmed to do. They do not have consciousness or a soul. They do not have the spark of divine life that will enable them to worship God. The AI in our mobile phone has more computing power than Deep Blue the AI chess grandmaster. All of us regard that as an essential piece of technology rather than a potential rival for the affections of God or wanting to be God.
Our human identity is bound to our awareness of who we are as human beings. It is not bound to our bodies. We can lose a limb and yet remain aware that we are still human. Christian consciousness of the identity in Christ is bound by the relation to God as revealed in the bible and in his creation. Awareness of the big bang, the expanding universe, stars with planets with water, do not in any way diminish our Christian identity. In fact, it strengthened our awareness of the awesomeness of the creator God. Does moving into the Metaverse and creating an avatar affects our Christian identity? I believe it will because it will expand our consciousness from physical reality to expand to a digital reality. It helps us to be more aware of who we are. Of course, in a digital space, we are creating an avatar who is not us. There is nothing new. In the real world, we have been creating our false selves since Cain. This focuses down on two essential components of identity: integrity and authenticity. It will be a test of our Christian identity; how our integrity and authenticity holds in the real world and the Metaverse.
Will it be possible to worship God in the Metaverse? I believe the answer is are given in the two-year-old COVID-19 pandemic which forced Church ministries and worships online. Though still in Web 2.0, it has proved beyond a doubt that God is in cyberspace and it is possible to worship him in spirit and in truth there. Numerous digital churches or Christian faith communities have already been formed with regular services and other ministries. The Metaverse will expand on this to allow even more innovation to worship. There will be new ways to pray together, meet together with a global reach, study the bible together, and hang out together. Paul’s concept of one anothering is being been applied online.
Hospitality and inclusiveness are hallmarks of the Christian church. In the real world, this has not worked out in practice. Church buildings are built with the non-disabled in mind. Very few are built with the disabled in mind. Many are added as an afterthought. In the real world churches, many people fell through the cracks: the physically disabled, the bedbound, the hospitalized, the prisoners, the behavioural challenged, those without transport, the very old, and families with very young children. The church in the Metaverse may truly democratize hospitality and inclusiveness. No longer are the above mentioned be excluded from an authentic 3-D worship experience or interactions with other people. Real-life churches can help these to acquire appropriate devices so that they may have a more meaningful human experience.
The Gospel will be better able to reach the far ends of the earth in the Metaverse. There will be greater opportunities for education and building relationships in the Metaverse. The Metaverse can only exist in the real world. It has no independent existence. It cannot exist without the real world. The Kingdom of God and the new earth is for the real world and all the things in it. By implication, the kingdom of God covers the Metaverse. Hence there is no need for theologians to develop a theology of the Metaverse. One does not need to develop a theology for the mobile phone. There is however a need to live a Christ-filled life in the Metaverse as we would in the real world. All Christian teachings and traditions apply in both worlds.
We are living in exciting times. In biological and medical realms we are living during the genomic code revolution. The mRNA vaccines are one of many new innovations coming from this revolution. We are also living in the computer code revolution. Within a few years, we will be moving from our present 2-D Web 2.0 to the Metaverse, Web 3.0. We will be experiencing innovative augmented reality, lifelogging, mirrored worlds, and virtual reality soon to be assimilated into our daily life. We will have more and powerful AI which will solve more and more complex problems. Are there anything for Christians to be concerned about? Technology is not neutral. It influences the society using it. Christians have the role to ensure that technologies be used well and those who use them be accountable. These concerns include AI, our human identities, worship, hospitality, and the kingdom of God in the Metaverse. We have the knowledge. We need wisdom.
“The ark of the covenant of the Lord went before them.” (Num. 10:33.)
GOD does give us impressions, but not that we should act on them as impressions. If the impression be from God, He will Himself give sufficient evidence to establish it beyond the possibility of a doubt.
How beautiful is the story of Jeremiah, of the impression that came to him respecting the purchase of the field of Anathoth. But Jeremiah did not act upon this impression until after the following day, when his uncle’s son came to him and brought him external evidence by making a proposal for the purchase. Then Jeremiah said: “I knew this was the word of the Lord.”
He waited until God seconded the impression by a providence, and then he acted in full view of the open facts, which could bring conviction unto others as well as to himself. God wants us to act according to His mind. We are not to ignore the Shepherd’s personal voice but, like Paul and his companions at Troas, we are to listen to all the voices that speak and “gather” from all the circumstances, as they did, the full mind of the Lord.—Dr. Simpson.
“Where God’s finger points, there God’s hand will make the way.”
Do not say in thine heart what thou wilt or wilt not do, but wait upon God until He makes known His way. So long as that way is hidden it is clear that there is no need of action, and that He accounts Himself responsible for all the results of keeping thee where thou art.—Selected.
“For God through ways we have not known, Will lead His own.”
Lettie B. Cowman, Streams in the Desert (Los Angeles, CA: The Oriental Missionary Society, 1925), 303–304.
Someone asked me how reliable is the Gospels in the Bible? This is part of an article by Blomberg.
“Non-Christian religions often allege that the Gospels as they now appear cannot be trusted because the text has been greatly corrupted. This allegation has virtually no evidence to support it. There are 2,328 manuscripts and manuscript fragments surviving from the earliest centuries of the Christian church and representing all portions of the Gospels. The earliest fragment of any portion of the NT currently in existence is the John Rylands papyrus fragment (P52) of John 18:31–33, 37–38, which probably dates to c. A.D. 125 or within about thirty years of the original composition of the Fourth Gospel. Twenty-one papyri containing major sections of one or more Gospels can be dated to the third and fourth centuries, while five virtually complete NTs survive from the fourth and fifth centuries. Compared with the numbers and ages of manuscripts which have survived for most other ancient documents, including many believed to contain reliable accounts of historical events, this evidence is overwhelming.
As a result, textual critics have been able to reconstruct a highly reliable prototype of what the original Gospel writers undoubtedly wrote. Estimates suggest that from ninety-seven to ninety-nine percent of the original text is securely recoverable. More than fifty-four percent of all of the verses in the Gospels are entirely free of textual variants, and the vast majority of those which remain have no bearing on questions of historicity. Modern editions of the Greek NT (Nestle-Aland; UBS) print the textual variants which have any significant effect on meaning, and most modern English translations use footnotes to alert readers to the most disputed texts (e.g., Mt 6:13b; Mk 16:9–20; Jn 7:53–8:11).”
C. L. Blomberg, “Gospels (Historical Reliability),” ed. Joel B. Green and Scot McKnight, Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1992), 292.
The most common reconstruction of the literary interrelationship of the Synoptic Gospels has Matthew and Luke depending on at least two written sources—Mark and Q* (a hypothetical document accounting for material Matthew and Luke have in common which is not found in Mark; see Synoptic Problem). Q is usually dated to the 50s and Mark is assumed to have utilized source material at least that old. With Christ’s crucifixion no earlier than A.D. 30, the time gap between events and written accounts is reduced to about twenty years
C. L. Blomberg, “Gospels (Historical Reliability),” ed. Joel B. Green and Scot McKnight, Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1992), 294.
Malaysian Christians marked themselves as safe in the Covid-19 pandemic 2020. We are still here. We request prayers. Last year was a roller coastal year of ups and downs. There were periods of intense fear accompanied by long periods of extreme boredom. The pandemic came like a thief in the night and took us by surprise. We were aware of some early storm warnings which were sounded in Wuhan China about a new coronavirus, initially named the novel SARS-CoV-2, because of its close resemblance to the SARS virus. Alarming news started coming in rapidly. The infected and death tolls started rising. Different countries were reporting cases, and the global spread was impressive. Then countries started reacting by placing their populations under lockdowns. We observed healthcare facilities being overwhelmed in Italy and Spain as the virus spread. We, however, were too busy celebrating the Chinese New Year of the Metal Rat to pay much heed until the storm hit. The rapid sale of toilet paper amused us until it was time for us to rush and buy. Our government informed us that we need to ‘flatten the curve’, not referring to weight control, but to contain the spread by lockdowns or Movement Order Control (MCO) which will allow time for our healthcare facilities to be expanded. What brought the message home was the lockdown on 18 March 2020 when the causeway was closed and we were all restricted to our home. Since then, we have experienced MCO, Extended MCO, Recovery MCO, and unfortunately at the time of writing back to MCO. A state of emergency has been declared nationwide because of the increasing number of cases.
A pandemic disrupts the function of society by revealing, removing, and resetting it. The Black Plague which almost decimated the population of Europe in the 14th century laid the foundation for modern Europe. Whether this pandemic will result in improved revitalized Malaysian churches remains to be seen. What it does was to reveal the complacency of many Malaysian Christians. We have settled into our own comfort zones. Aside from occasional forays to the outside world, most of us are quite happy doing church. We are at peace with the society we live in and have comes to terms with its challenges. What we did not or refuse to realize is how broken ourselves, our churches, and our society are. The SARS-CoV-2 RNA virus did not break our society. It is already broken. We have been propping it up it up it so that it continues to function. Society’s brokenness arise from marketing, unrealistic branding, doubtful morality, and borrowed money. The church in this society is broken through being inward-looking, and existing on a form of ‘cheap grace’ without the need for accountability, commitment, and involvement by getting our hands dirty. A few Christians did most of the work while the rest side back and critize. More efforts were spent looking after the welfare of church members than in reaching out to the poor, exploited, sick, and destitute around. Many of the Christians are not even aware of the millions of migrant workers in the country, nor of those who are living with disabilities and needing help.
The pandemic removes all the props and reveals our brokenness. With the lockdown, all churches are not allowed to hold their services and meetings on-site. This was a shock to the churches in Malaysia. No one was prepared for this. To many Christians, the Sunday service was the sum total of their faith. There was a deep sense of depression and lamentation in the church at that time. A webinar Moving Beyond Lament: Biblical, Pastoral, and Spirituality Perspectives was held to explore this.
Unfortunately, the lamentation was not one of biblical repentance and seeking the Lord, but of not being able to do church the way we are used to. For the first half of the year, many churches did not do anything except to wait for things to get back to ‘normal’. It must be noted that during this early period of the pandemic, bigger urban churches that are more techno-savvy moved online faster than the smaller and rural churches. These churches are also more active on social media. When the middle of the year came and Christians begin to realize that the virus is not going away anytime soon, they began to review their situation and began their reset the way they do church.
Christians in Malaysia faces a lot of challenges when they started to reset the way they do and be the church in the new pandemic era. The lockdowns have caused a lot of economic hardships as the economy has literally come to a standstill and needs to restart. Workers had their pay cut, overtime allowances trimmed and even retrenched or sacked. Thousands of families dropped below the poverty line. Jobs are hard to find. Churches and faith-based organizations are hard hit, and some are forced to close. However, in the midst of the doom and gloom, some interesting trends appeared during this resetting period.
First, more and more churches are moving online. Churches have expanded their services with direct streaming, and YouTube and Facebook Live. The smaller churches are starting online services. What is encouraging is that the larger churches who have the expertise are training the smaller churches on how to stream their services. The infrastructure for the Internet is not well developed in Malaysia. Internet available is spotty or non-existent in many areas. Mobile networks are better and many smaller churches especially indigenous churches in East Malaysia are connecting and even conducting their services on their mobile phones by email or Whatsapp.
Second, the small groups in churches seen to be revitalized. Even as Christians cannot meet in church services, they become more active in small or cell groups. Many use the media platform Zoom, Google Meet, or Lark. Attendance in small groups has gone up. They even have members joining in from overseas. More Christians have taken up leadership in these small groups which is a very encouraging trend indeed.
Third, Christians have become more ecumenical as they begin to attend service services and listening to sermons and teaching which is outside their denominational borders. Many have expressed wonder and awe at the exposure of different traditions of Christianity. Others feel they are receiving better teaching and know more about the bible and Christianity. With time during the lockdown, some have taken up theological courses from institutions around the world. The pandemic has pushed Malaysian Christians to become global Christians in new and meaningful ways.
Four, there seems to be a new level of collaboration between the churches in Malaysia. When the first wave of the virus in Malaysia was contained and there were indications that on-site church services may be allowed, a group of Christians collaborated to draw up the first guidance of Standard Operation Protocol (SOP) for the reopening of churches. This document is distributed free and form the basis of many denominations in drafting up their SOPs, not only in Malaysia but also in other countries. A webinar Guidance for Churches in the Post-Covid Era was held to inform the church leaders.
Five, many churches are involved in buying and bringing groceries to the poor during the lockdowns. It is heartening to note the innovative way the churches reaching out and meeting the needs of their neighbor in these difficult times. A group of churches in Johor Bahru receive a few tonnes of unsold vegetables from Cameron Highlands, repack these in one of the church compound, and gave out these vegetables to about 6,000 poor families. Another church looks after 600 families and makes sure they have enough food and their children receive an education. Yet another reached out to the Orang Asli villages in the interior of Peninsular Malaysia.
Finally, with the uncertainty, anxiety, and threat of the virus, many Malaysian Christians are drawing closer to God. When all our delusions of control have been stripped away, we realize how dependent we are on our Lord. When all human machineries have failed to control the virus, we are left with only our faith. Prayer meetings are better attended than before. More Christians are reading the bible and attending bible studies. Interest in spirituality has shot up.
The journey is not over yet. The virus is still rampaging the country. While there is the promise of the vaccine, none has been sighted on our shores yet. So what news from Malaysia? We are good. How about you?
There has been some concern that the Covid-19 vaccines were made from fetal cells of aborted fetal cells. Covid-19 infection is caused by SARS-CoV-2 virus which is an RNA virus. Were aborted human fetal cells used in the creation of Covid-19 vaccines?
Vaccines developed from fetal cells lines were not new. Pharmaceutical companies find that cell lines are perfect for vaccines to grow. The fetal cell lines used were derived in the 1960’s and 1970’s from two elective abortions that were not performed for the purpose of vaccine development. Fetal cell lines were used to create vaccines for diseases such as hepatitis A, rubella, and rabies. Only two fetal cells lines were used: HEK-293: A kidney cell line that was isolated from a terminated fetus in 1972, and PER.C6: A retinal cell line that was isolated from a terminated fetus in 1985. No other fetal cells from terminated fetus or abortions were used. No new abortions were done to obtain new fetal cell lines.Of the Covid-19 vaccines, only live-attenuated or inactivated virus vaccines, and viral vector vaccines used fetal cell lines. Some of these are using animal cell lines while other human fetal cell lines. Examples are AstraZeneca, CanSino, Gamaleya, and Janssen. Other DNA, RNA, and Protein vaccines do not need fetal cell lines for its development. Examples of the RNA vaccines are the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. For a full list see here: Update: COVID-19 Vaccine Candidates and Abortion-Derived Cell Lineshttps://lozierinstitute.org/update-covid-19-vaccine…/
To those who are concerned about the moral implications of using vaccines derived from aborted fetal cells, the RNA, DNA, and Protein vaccines will not be a problem. It is only as we face the issue of live attenuated or inactivation vaccines that the problem arises. Thomas Aquinas, one of the greatest theologians of the church offers some wisdom on this issue. From Thomas Aquinas, we learn of the principle of natural law, the principle of totality, and the principle of double effect. The principle of natural law states that the “Natural Law consists of first judgment that good should be pursued and evil avoided”. It means that whatever action should seek for the greater good and not for greater harm. A vaccine is for the greater good. It gives some protection for the vulnerable and those at high risk especially the older persons, those with chronic medical conditions, and those whose immune system are weak. It also aims at creating herd immunity to protect those who did not have an opportunity to be vaccinated. In natural law, we should aim to do good, not evil.
In his second principle, the law of totality, Aquinas noted that “the body may be changed only to ensure the proper functioning of the whole body.” He pointed out that it is our duty to be responsible steward not only of our own bodies but that of our neighbours. A vaccine enables better functioning of the body against the virus. Aquinas may not be aware of vaccination but he was aware of plagues and pestilences.
The third and final principle from Aquinas is the principle of double effect. Aquinas taught “The act must be good or at least morally neutral. The moral agent must intend only the good effect and bad effect must not be the means of bringing about the good effect. The good and the bad effect must be proportional.” He was saying that sometimes you have to do something bad so that some good will emerge. For example, if a pregnant woman has an ectopic pregnancy. An ectopic pregnancy is when the fetus is implanted not in the uterus but in one of her fallopian tubes. After growing to a certain size, the fetus will rupture the fallopian tube and the mother will bleed to death. The doctor may have to go in to remove the fetus in order to save the mother’s life. Without an operation, both will die. However, removing the fetus is what we understand as abortion. The principle of double effect is abortion though a negative action was done with the intention of a good effect, the survival of the mother. The fetus died so that the mother may live.
Aquinas’ teaching may have an impact on how we think about fetal cell lines. These fetal cells line were derived from two abortions done 30-40 years ago. Yet the death of these two fetuses are providing a legacy to ensure others keep on living. Two negative events are providing many positive effects.
Ultimately, the choice is yours. As I mentioned, not all Covid-19 vaccines are made from human fetus cells. What is essential is that enough persons need to vaccinated for their own individual and their neighbours’ protection.
Christmas is not postponed or canceled. With the upsurge of COVID-19 cases in recent weeks all over the world, countries, and cities which have been gradually relaxing their pandemic restrictions for the Christmas season are restricting their prevention measures again. This has been a roller coaster year where the pandemic plays a game of ups and downs with the nations. Countries that have declared themselves pandemic free a few months ago are experiencing an upsurge of cases. The emergency rollout of the new vaccines is a light in an otherwise dark year. The restriction of preventive rules will result in churches holding services for a smaller number of members or only having online services. The normal Christmas cheer of frenzy shopping, partying, and caroling will be restricted or dampened. This has led to some news media to report that ‘Christmas this year is canceled’.
Christmas which derived from the Middle English word of Christ’s Mass is actually a celebration of an event that happened more than two thousand years ago. It celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ to Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem. This is a fact and cannot be canceled, no matter how much spin we apply to it. The celebration of Christmas cannot be canceled. Christmas celebration is not the holiday merrymaking, shopping, Christmas trees and presents, caroling, special church services, or family gatherings. It is a celebration because many years ago when the shepherds in the field heard that the savior was born and found that it is true. This savior, named Jesus is God incarnate. He is fully God, yet fully human. This is a step in the redemption of all human beings to do what we cannot, but made possible by God; the salvation of all humankind. The celebration of Christmas happens in the reconciliation of the relationship of all of mankind and God, and all of mankind with one another. Hence the refrain: ‘Peace on earth and goodwill to men’. This type of celebration cannot be canceled or postponed, not even during a pandemic. This pandemic has shut down the cultural trappings of the Christmas season, leaving with us only the basics in lockdown. However, the basics are more than enough. Christian celebration is Immanuel, roughly translated as God with us.
We are not the first generation to be shut down by a global pandemic. There have been many pandemics in the past, and many more will come until Jesus comes again. The second coming of Jesus is the other reason we celebrate Christmas. Jesus’ second coming will bring to an end all suffering and tears. In the meantime, let us be grateful that we survived the pandemic so far. As we slow down to the end of the year, let us reflect on the year with gratefulness. There is always something to be grateful for. And we shall bring this gratefulness into the New Year. We shall enter the New Year with gratefulness and high expectations. We shall carry on and adapting to the new circumstances. Human normalcy is adapting to change. Hence there is no new or old normalcy. A wise man once said, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” We shall learn to cope and even to thrive in this Christmas season.
Julian of Norwich, an English mystic, encouraged us with “But all will be well, and all will be well, and every kind of thing will be well.” It was not some idealistic saying but one born of experience and pain. Julian lived during the times of the Black Death (1348-1350). According to her book Showings (the long version), Julian spent 15 years and more walled up in her cell against a church wall, immersed in a deep, faithful struggle to understand the meaning of these words. Her conclusion was that human beings will survive and thrive, not because of their own efforts, but by the Love of God. Such is the message of Christmas.
Finally let us not forget the poor, the sick, and the marginalized amongst us. It is too easy to forget them as we strive to be safe and to survive. They are the ones who suffer the most in any pandemic. The socio-economic consequences of the pandemic have driven many people below the poverty line. Financial giving to many non-governmental agencies and faith-based organizations have nose-dived. The need is greater than ever. If you have survived or even thrived in this first year of the pandemic, be grateful, and think of giving to those who have not. Christmas is not canceled.