Pandemic Journey – Advent Hope

There’s light at the end of the tunnel. Today, at the beginning of Advent, we celebrate that God has a plan to restore his world, a plan launched at the first Christmas, with the birth of the One who would be at the centre of that plan.

Photo by Gustavo Fring on Pexels.com

There is light at the end of the tunnel. Not only are there now three effective vaccines against Covid-19 soon to come on stream, but the latest one – from the group at Oxford University – is cheap and easy to store. So there’s hope we can vaccinate not only ourselves but contribute to vaccinating the rest of the world as well. There’s light at the end of the tunnel… but we still don’t know where the tunnel is going to come out – what life will look like in, say, a year’s time. Where are we heading?

Recently I watched Paul Harcourt (National Leader of New Wine) on YouTube drawing some profound lessons about living with the virus from the account in Acts 27 of the apostle Paul’s nearly-disastrous sea voyage to Rome. Paul (Harcourt, not the apostle) draws our attention to the moment they saw land ahead:

When daylight came, they did not recognise the land, but they saw a bay with a sandy beach, where they decided to run the ship aground if they could.

“They did not recognise the land”: when the shadow of the virus is lifted from us things will very likely look rather different from the way they do now. We may not return to “normal”; instead, we may find ourselves in a “new normal”.

Paul’s talk set me thinking about what else this story from Acts might have to say about where we’re headed.

Acts 27 is a great read, but here in brief is how Paul (the apostle, not Harcourt) gets to be on a boat in a storm. He has set off a riot in the Jerusalem Temple and been rescued and taken into protective custody by the Romans. In sheer frustration at the time it’s taking for his case to be resolved, he appeals to Caesar. So he is dispatched to Rome, guarded and escorted by a centurion. The journey does not go well, mainly because – against good sense and Paul’s own advice – the centurion presses ahead with the journey when it’s much too late in the year for a safe sea voyage. They get caught up in a violent storm and spend many days out of control and at the mercy of the elements.

Just when everybody on board the ship has given up hope and assumes that they’re going to drown, Paul intervenes. He tells them that an angel of God has appeared to him and assured him of two things: he will get to stand before Caesar in Rome and everybody on board will be saved and survive the storm.

The purposes of God will not fail. However bad things may seem, however difficult or dangerous our circumstances may be, however much of a mess of things we make, God sticks to his purposes and keeps his promises.

Paul is going to meet the Roman Emperor himself, ruler of the known world. What would Paul say to him? I imagine he would speak truth to power – telling him about Jesus, the one who is the true Lord of the world. Jesus, Paul would say, (not Caesar) is in charge of the direction of history, he holds the future. It’s in good hands.

God is always about the business of establishing his Kingdom, his rule of justice, kindness and compassion. Somehow he manages to work with and through the mess we make, including things like Covid-19.

Acts 27 doesn’t encourage us to think that God sent the virus, any more than he engineered such a traumatic journey to Rome for Paul. The arrival of the virus and the decision to put to sea at the wrong time of year were equally the result of human foolishness.

I like the picture painted by the Oxford philosopher J. R. Lucas who said that God is like the Persian rugmakers who let their children help them. In each family the children work at one end of the rug, the father at the other. The children fail to carry out their father’s instructions exactly, but so great is their father’s skill, that he adapts his design at his end to take in each error at the children’s end, and work it into a new, constantly adapted, pattern.

More on Paul and the pandemic in my next post.