Oh the joy of being surrounded with family and friends to commemorate one of the greatest events on earth: the birth of our Lord and Savior! Just as Jesus came to our planet as a present to those who will accept Him, we can also share the joy of giving.
However, not everyone feels festive during this season of the year. Many spend their Christmas time alone, abandoned and without an inkling of a present. Dinner is from the stale cereal box, with maybe some peanut butter and jam on a piece of hardened toast. “Joy” is far from their heart in such circumstances. Instead they are facing gloom and depression.
But then, some presents may also be filled with hatred and devastation.
In 1345, plague infested hordes of Tartars from Southern Russia laid siege to the city of Kaffa on the Black Sea, a siege that would last two years. Just that by itself was demoralizing enough, but the plague brought by the Tartars was terrible, and thousands died on a daily basis.
The symptoms of this plague were far from appealing. Sudden fever overtook the victims, followed by chills and weakness. Then huge swellings would occur, especially under the armpits and in the groin. Sufferers would experience fatigue, lethargy and delirium. After just 4 days of distress, these victims would succumb to respiratory failure. At the end, their bodies had an overall purplish tint, hence the popular name: “Black Death”.
Initially it was the Tartars who suffered the most from the plague. In fact, thousands of their army died on a daily basis. They found that they had an immense problem: What to do with all those dead bodies! Digging a thousand graves a day was tiresome and demoralizing for the troops.
Then one of them came up with an idea: “Why don’t we let our enemy take care of them?” The next day they began to catapult the bodies of their soldiers who had succumbed to the plague over the walls of Kaffa and into the city itself.
How would you enjoy such a Christmas present?
Within days the plague started to infest the city dwellers. Although they took every precaution against the disease by placing tapestries to cover windows, the plague indeterminably hit rich and poor alike and death abounded.
The Tartars had successfully barricaded the land around the city, however not the sea behind it. The Venetian merchants, frightened by the disease, quickly retreated to their boats and sailed back to their beloved country, Italy. Unfortunately, they took the disease with them. The bubonic plaque reached the soil of Sicily in 1348, then quickly spread to Genoa and into the rest of Europe, England included. The Black Plague claimed the lives of an estimated 75 million people around the world. In just a few years Europe had lost between 30% to 60% of its population!
Amazingly, it is said that the bubonic plague itself is not overly contagious!
So what was it that caused the disease to rampage through Europe?
There may have been many causes, but the one that stands out in the forefront is “fleas”.
Yes, these tiny black insects seem to be the probable cause of the rapid decimation of this horrid disease. Fleas feed on blood, and when they bite a plague-infested rat, they ingest not only the rodent’s blood, but the bacteria as well. The bacteria then begins to multiply in the flea’s foregut, completely blocking its stomach from receiving food. Now the plague-infested flea starts to be intensely hungry, but it never seems to be able to satisfy its voracious hunger. It frantically jumps from one host to another, injecting each one of them with a single bite, with saliva containing about twenty thousand bacteria.
It seems that those plague-infested bodies catapulted over the city of Kaffa were not the real cause of the decimation of the Black Death, but rather, the fleas these bodies carried! Once inside the city, they fled the dead bodies in search of more lively hosts!
A bigger devastation was introduced into our world when our forefathers decided to go their own way instead of God’s. Eve and Adam gave in to temptation and sin entered our world. “Sin entered the world through one man…” (Rom 5:12 NIV) However the word “sin” seems so impersonal and uninvolving. Just like the people of the fourteenth century who wrongly believed that tapestries were able to protect them from deadly diseases or that the “Black Plague” could be caused by dead bodies, labelling all of our woes as “sin” may lead us to error! Let me explain:
What caused the entrance of sin in this world in the first place? Was it sin? That wouldn’t make much sense. Isn’t the cause of sin lack of love? Or perhaps, more precisely, an overabundance of love of self? “When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it.” (Gen 3:6 NIV) The “I” becomes our primal focus when we contemplate sinful desires! Others seem inconsequential while temptation has our full attention!
Now all of a sudden this seems to be much more personal! You know what I mean! Aren’t we all guilty of lack of love for those we encounter? Are we really all that much involved in the needs of others? Do we even care for the lonely neighbours who are celebrating Christmas by themselves with no presents? Do we even pray for those who are less fortunate than ourselves? Do we share their burdens of need? Do we really know what the word “love” means?
With more than 50% of marriages on the brink, and prostitution, drugs and abortion, homelessness and abandoned children on the increase, do we really understand what the word “love” means?
Are we looking at prophecy with indifference? “Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold…” (Matt 24:12 NIV) Are we making a difference in our neighbourhoods, in our city, in the countries we live in? Or are we bound by tradition? Do we only attend our once a week church excursion with a fake smile plastered on our face while remaining indifferent to the plight of others?
Our forefathers introduced us to death. Only One introduced us to life: “If death got the upper hand through one man’s wrongdoing, can you imagine the breathtaking recovery life makes, sovereign life, in those who grasp with both hands this wildly extravagant life-gift, this grand setting-everything-right, that the one man Jesus Christ provides?” (Rom 5:17 The Message).
Isn’t this why Jesus urges us to love above anything else? Isn’t this why relationships are so important to God that Jesus willingly died on a cross so that we could be reconciled with our divine Father?
“As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” (John 13:34 NIV)
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” (Matt 22:37 NIV)
Love is the antithesis to the word “sin”, it is the opposite to selfish living! Love is the cure to all of our troubles. Relationship is of utmost importance to God!
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16 NIV)
This is why Jesus willingly left heaven and entered our human race: to show the way to reconciliation, to show the way to real love!
If we do celebrate Christmas in honor of Jesus, shouldn’t we at least try reaching out to one hapless soul who will not have the honor of celebrating this event with anyone else?
If we want a revolution in our neighbourhood, we need to follow in Jesus’ footsteps! What would Jesus do if He was in our locality? Are we bringers of life or death?
What is your choice?