By Jeff Mullin
Enid News & Eagle
Dark. It was truly a dark world through which Mary and Joseph, and the donkey, plodded toward Bethlehem, and not simply because physical illumination of the night was provided only by candles and torches.
The year was, scholars say, somewhere around 4 B.C. In that time the Word of God had not been heard for some four centuries. Malachi, the last book in the Old Testament, was written in about the 5th century B.C.
The book concluded with the statement God would send Elijah the prophet ahead of the promised Messiah, but then, nothing. God went silent.
On top of that the Jewish people remained under Rome’s oppressive thumb. The Jews had escaped exile from Babylon, but remained outcasts in their own land.
And even the fabric of Jewish life was beginning to come apart at the seams. The Pharisees, Sadducees, the Essenes and the Zealots all made their own bids for power.
There were riots in the streets. Tension was ever-present, as were the Romans, who were swift and violent in putting down any unrest.
So in this dark, violent, unsettled world we find Mary and Joseph, obeying the edict of Herod, returning to Joseph’s family home, Bethlehem, the City of David, to be counted.
But she was, as they say, great with child. Check that, great with great child. For this was the promised Messiah, this was the son of God, this was the baby to be born of a virgin in fulfillment of prophecy.
Both she and Joseph had been told that by angels. But how could their faith not waver in such a dark time?
Fast forward to today. We live in a dark world, plagued by a global pandemic some see as hoax, some see as minor annoyance, but which has, to date, killed some 1.65 million people worldwide and 308,000 plus in the United States.
We have come through a year filled with racial tension and violence, as well as of unrest in the streets over the efficacy of a long, hard-fought presidential election. The fabric of American life is fraying at the seams, it seems.
Our fellow Americans are hungry, people are homeless, people are hurting, out of work, sick and dying.
Life as we knew it ended, at least for a time, in March. Normal, even some sort of new normal, seems far away.
Dark. It is a truly dark world through which so many of us are slogging each and every day, on our own journeys to our own destinations.
But there is light, hallelujah. In our pandemic-ravaged world, it comes in the form of the most remarkable scientific and medical miracle of the modern era, the swift development of a vaccine against the coronavirus. This has never been done before in human history.
The so-called Spanish Flu killed some 50 million worldwide and 675,000 in the U.S in 1918-19. The first clinical trials of any kind of vaccine against the flu were conducted in the mid-1930s.
It is estimated more than 3,000 Americans died from polio. It took Jonas Salk two-and-a-half years to develop his polio vaccine.
The COVID-19 vaccine was developed within months, and is now being distributed, thus offering a light at the end of a long, dark tunnel.
And hope, of course, always hope. For the people of the ancient world, that hope came in the form of that child Mary was carrying, the baby whose birth was heralded by a great, heavenly light.
Hope is a powerful emotion, one that can spark the tiniest light to help get us through the darkest of periods.
It is that hope that is at the center of Christmas, or should be, at least. The hope that Jesus represents, hope that burns as brightly today as it did a couple thousand years ago.
And a promise, as well, of everlasting light, and life. Oh, and I almost forgot, love, the most important emotion in our human makeup. For God so loved the world.
So here’s to hope, here’s to life, here’s to love and here’s to that blessed child, waiting to be born anew in our hearts.
Mullin is an award-winning writer and columnist who retired in 2017 after 41 years with the News & Eagle. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or write him in care of the Enid News & Eagle at PO Box 1192, Enid, OK, 73702.