With Christmas happening this week, I found myself thinking about Jesus’s birth. Caesar Augustus required that everyone travel to their home town for a census. Rome would update taxation based on this census (and taxes rarely go down). I imagine the average citizen thought, “You want me to make a long, expensive, dangerous journey so I can be taxed more? Hard pass….” (Then their thoughts turned to being executed for defying the emperor. They started packing).
Mary and Joseph had even less incentive since Mary was “big with child” (as some translations put it—apologies to Mary). Like many top-down government actions, Caesar didn’t consider details like: where would all these displaced travelers stay when visiting their home towns? On top of everything else, Mary and Joseph had nowhere to stay when they came to Bethlehem. Jesus, God’s Son and King of kings, was born in a barn.
It was unfair, the act of rulers unaffected by the inconvenience, risk, and cost of their own edict. It was inhumane. And, it was orchestrated by God because He had immense purpose in it.
From here, my mind jumped to coronavirus. This year, we all got COVID in our stockings. People everywhere, to varying degrees, have put up with restrictions. Businesses atrophy every day. We are inconvenienced by masks, quarantines, and stay home orders. We are forbidden to see family and friends for long stretches. Mental health issues are on the rise. Despite all this, people continue to get sick, and some die. (This I don’t say lightly. Several friends have been hospitalized because of COVID).
We are all bearing the brunt of uncoordinated, poorly executed government mandates that, let’s be honest, affect politicians less than the average person. If government offices were closing at the rate businesses are, you can bet politicians would be scrambling to help instead of using this for political advantage. Instead, there’s a good chance government will grow. We’ll get a “Recovery Czar” complete with the marionette strings of added bureaucracy. (Please hear dark irony in this more than political speculation).
It’s unfair. At times it’s inhumane, and (drum roll), just like the circumstances of Jesus’s birth, God has immense purpose in it. I don’t know, specifically, how all of this advances God’s kingdom. But He is challenging me to believe that it does.
Did God cause coronavirus as part of some grand plan? This makes Him sound like the out of touch leaders passing mandates for us. I am inclined to think viruses are part of living in a world that is fallen and affected by sin. God doesn’t cause pandemics, calamities, and the like. But He is not co-dependent. In some measure, we have to deal with our choice to live without Him. God does act in our circumstances to mitigate the effects of the fall. We have no idea—not even an inkling—of what the world would be like if God completely abandoned us. He is a good parent, allowing us to experience consequences within limits.
That said, nothing is wasted—not the evil we perpetrate, not bad government, not even pandemics. God causes everything to work together for good (Rom. 8:28). The “good” in that verse is that we would all be conformed to the image of His Son (Rom. 8:29). I pray that some who don’t know Jesus truly and personally will connect with Him during this time. In this world, there is no complete rescue from trouble. That is only found in Jesus: “You will have suffering in this world. Be courageous! I have conquered the world” (John 16:33).
For those of us who do know Jesus, I pray we connect more deeply to the purpose of Romans 8:29. How can we grow in Christ-likeness? Only the Holy Spirit can reveal where that growth is needed. Refocusing on the purpose God has in this season can help us weather it better. We can’t shape ourselves. But we can remain still on the potter’s wheel instead of fighting the hands that are changing us from a formless lump into art. It may not be as merry a Christmas as we would wish. But there is more in common with the hardships of the first Christmas. In that, there is an opportunity to see the world through Jesus’s eyes.
“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace on earth to people He favors!” (Luke 2:14).