“Oh night when Christ was born”

As we draw closer to celebrating Christmas 2021, the world finds itself challenged by another Covid variant that is highly transmissible and increasingly concerning. Local and global responses urge individuals to stay home, to restrict or cancel the number of holiday social gatherings or parties, and to implement strategies that reduce or close down larger scale events held at sporting or entertainment venues.

Your initial reaction is probably similar to most of us with sentiments like, “here we go again”. Some of you may find yourself feeling quite depressed, overwhelmed and lonely. Life had just begun to feel normal with restaurants, businesses, gyms, and workplaces slowly reopening again. You, like me may have ventured back into the world fully vaccinated and strictly Covid-protocol compliant. So, the view that anything terribly bad could happen had subsided, and a certain degree of confidence had probably been restored. Prior to the Omicron variant, the general medical opinion supported the view that people slowly return to life as we knew it before Covid. At that time, it was a healthy decision to re-engage with family, friends, neighbours, colleagues, and congregants.

Within a matter of weeks, health officials issued recommendations for increased restrictions as case numbers rose. So, once again, you find yourself re-evaluating your plans for the holidays. After months of relative isolation from family, friends, neighbours, and colleagues, you are probably more adept at spending quiet time on your own or with those loved ones in your home or “social bubble”. This semi-lockdown period before Christmas offers an opportunity to more deeply reflect on what many of us believe was a holy night, the very first Christmas in Bethlehem, and the birth of Jesus more than 2,000 years ago.

The concept of holy is an interesting one. Grammatically used most often as an adjective, the notion of holiness describes evidence of the presence of God. Diverse monotheistic faith-based groups have many ways of expressing the holiness of people, events, artifacts, places of worship, altars, or relics. Some groups believe that one can become holy, while other faith groups believe in the sanctity of human life at the point of conception, thereby validating the presence of God in each unique living person, and the role of God’s grace in making all things holy. Still other spiritual groups that resound of early paganism or animism extend the idea of the divine to other life forms, inanimate objects, forces of nature, and to mother earth herself.

Adopting a very broad scholarly perspective on the philosophy of scientific knowledge, since the Age of Reason, enlightenment, or Cartesianism in the late Renaissance, it seems that ontological perspectives have been slowly replaced by epistemological approaches that centralize less on knowing the world based on the properties of things and the relations between them; and more on knowing the world through methods of exploration that test the reliability of facts, ideas, opinions, or theories. In ontology, real, finite, accurate, valid, and reliable knowledge does exist. It results in knowledge based on scientific findings that people can have faith in and provides the foundation for further study. In epistemology, all knowledge can be explored, tested, and bent in ways that questions the validity of any scientific finding as truth. Knowledge is always doubt-ridden, precarious, and uncertain, also providing room for further scientific study. So, the issue is not so much what we do or do not know about science, it is whether or not we can believe in it.

As you reflect on the holy night of Christmas, whether on your own, with family, friends, or in a community of believers, you, like thousands of Christians before you, may find that until he appeared your soul felt its worth. Despite all restrictions and where you might find yourself to be, we are all invited on this holy night to celebrate the magnificence of the birth of a child, heralded by a bright star and angels, that the Son of God was to be born in a lowly manger in turbulent times.

Merry Christmas.

Dr. Lisa Romano-Dwyer BSc, MSW, PhD, RSW

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