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“COVID-19 pandemic, an ‘unprecedented wake-up call’ for all inhabitants of Mother Earth.”

“Unprecedented damage by COVID-19 requires an unprecedented policy response.”

“Unprecedented!” The word screams at me from the headlines and makes me scratch my head and wonder aloud: “I thought the dictionary definition for unprecedented was ‘never done or known before.’ ”

Would those who lived through the horrors of the H1N1 pandemic of 1918 agree that our current pandemic is “unprecedented”? The so-called Spanish flu claimed some 50 million lives worldwide and 675,000 in the United States alone.

And what about the generations who lived through the nightmare of the Black Death in Europe, which peaked around a.d. 1350? It is estimated that some 75 million to 200 million—or about 30 to 60 percent of the population—succumbed. So many died so quickly that one historian in Florence, Italy, recorded, “All the citizens did little else except to carry dead bodies to be buried. . . . At every church they dug deep pits down to the water-table; and thus those who were poor who died during the night were bundled up quickly and thrown into the pit. In the morning . . . they took some earth and shoveled it down on top of them; and later others were placed on top of them and then another layer of earth, just as one makes lasagna with layers of pasta and cheese.”*

Ghoulish recipe indeed! But not unprecedented.

It’s not even close to the deadliest pandemic our world has seen. That distinction belongs to the plague that has swept away every generation since the beginning of time. St. Paul explains, “Just as sin entered the world through one man and death through sin, so also death spread to all people because all sinned” (Romans 5:12). Every person we will greet this day—or meet along the pathway of our lives—will one day die.

No vaccine will prevent it. No social distancing will stem the tide. Forget about a mask. It will do no good. Nor will the pious Christmas platitude shared all-too-often automatically: “Peace on earth.”

The only cure for our 100-percent-deadly sin plague had to be unprecedented.

We needed a champion who would crush the serpent’s head and, along with that, the deadly bite of death and hell affecting each one of us (Genesis 3:15). Unprecedented.

We needed a child who would break the curse of inherited sin. A child promised to a scheming king, Ahaz, who deserved no promise at all: “Therefore the Lord himself will give a sign for all of you. Look! The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son and name him Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14). Unprecedented.

We needed the only Son, begotten from eternity, who, “though he was by nature God, . . . did not consider equality with God as a prize to be displayed, but he emptied himself by taking the nature of a servant” (Philippians 2:6,7). Unprecedented.

That first Christmas, our heavenly Father used Caesar Augustus’ census decree to bring Joseph and his pregnant wife, Mary, to the sleepy little village of Bethlehem. “So it was that while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son, wrapped him in swaddling cloths, and laid him in a manger” (Luke 2:6,7).

In the manger lies a gift of pure grace for you and me—something “never done or known before.” Unprecedented.

The Scripture references used in this article are from the Evangelical Heritage Version.


Author: Glenn Schwanke
Volume 107, Number 12
Issue: December 2020

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