Yo ho ho – glad tidings we bring?

Lessons from the plague of Justinian

Once again, as we approach Christmas, the country has been plunged into uncertainty.  Only a month ago, we were hoping Covid was pretty much ‘over’ and that life was returning to something approximating normal.  But now, with Omicron infections rapidly spiralling out of control, we’re under new restrictions, with the distinct possibility of more to come … and once again we’re all wondering what kind of a Christmas it’s going to be.

So what might God be saying in all of this?  As we prepare to celebrate the birth of His Son, may it just be that the Almighty is putting a brake on festivities in order to call a world lost in darkness to realisation of just how far mankind has strayed?   Perhaps more to the point, is there any chance the world will listen?

On current form, the answer to this seems a resounding ‘no’.  Indeed, judging by coverage of world news, and blockbuster films with superheroes saving the day, so that we can continue our increasingly liberal lifestyles, the world would appear to think it’s beyond criticism.  But perhaps God comes at things from a different perspective.

At this time of year, with the usual endless carol services, nativity plays, mince pies, parties, visits to Santa, and general festivities, the world pays lip service to the birth of a ‘special’ baby.  Yet we give little thought to the lost lives of the 56 million ‘other’ babies we have so casually sacrificed across the world over the course of the year.   It’s very difficult to get precise figures but, since abortion was first legalised in Communist Russia in the 1920s, it’s estimated that between one to three billion babies have been legally killed – by societies that prioritise the right to have sex over the right to life of the unborn. 

Yet every one of those lives was created by, and is special to, God.  Every one of those babies had unique gifts that have now been lost forever.    

Science demonstrably does not hold all the answers to Covid.  The vaccines help, and it is arguable that they are a direct gift of God to help us survive.  But they are a qualified help – and of course we still don’t know the possible long-term effects of their use.   Whatever your view of the vaccines, however, what is beyond doubt is that we are a world under judgement and, in face of the evils we have not just done, but actively celebrated, God has withdrawn His protection.

It doesn’t have to be like this.   In whatever way the virus may mutate, God holds the answer, and He could, if He wished, stop it in its tracks.  He could in fact deliver us, just as in 590 AD He delivered the people of Rome from what became known as the plague of Justinian.  An infection later estimated to have killed over a quarter of the world’s entire population. 

Rome, at the time – as the UK today ⎼ was known for its corruption, decadence, and sexual immorality.   It was a city in decline, but, faced by the growing number of corpses littering the streets, the newly elected Pope, Gregory 1, issued a ringing call to repentance.   In his opening address to the crowds he proclaimed, “God is full of mercy and compassion, and it is His will that we should win His pardon through our prayers” (emphasis added).

The terrified crowds, confronted with their sins, rushed to respond, and for three days Gregory led the people in repentance round the city – crying out to Lord for deliverance.   As they marched, it was reported that the plague was so bad, 80 people actually died as they walked.

Then, on 25th April, the third day as they processed through the streets, led as ever by Gregory, something miraculous happened.   According to reports, the Archangel Michael was seen standing on the top of the castle of Crescentius – just a short way from the Vatican – brandishing a sword.  Some witnesses said it was a flaming sword, and others that it was covered in blood.  But whatever, in response to the crowd’s awed prayer, the Archangel sheathed the sword and then turned to leave the city.  And, as he left, the people reported an immediate change.  The air, they said, became fragrant and fresh – less heavy – and from that moment the plague stopped.  

If we wish to see an end to the pandemic, we would do well to take note.  Writing to the Galatians in the first century, St Paul warned, ‘God is not mocked … whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.”

It may with justice be said that it is our ‘choices’ that have led to the evils facing the world today.  God stands ever ready to help, to deliver us from evil.  But to receive that help, we have first to repent, acknowledging Him as Lord, and then amend our ways.

In these strange times, as we prepare once again to celebrate the gift of God’s own Son, conceived out of wedlock and born to a young mother in Bethlehem, let us seek His forgiveness for the lives we have so needlessly sacrificed.  And then let us ask for deliverance. 

This article by Lynda first appeared in Christian Today and is reproduced with permission




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