Lockdown 3.0 – who would have guessed that we would be in lockdown again! For all the talk of recapturing the spirit of March once again, this lockdown is very different. In Lockdown 1.0 there was a sense that if we do what we are told the pandemic will soon be over. The streets were empty, wildlife recolonised urban spaces, people stood at their front door and clapped for the NHS. After the respite of the summer November brought Lockdown 2.0 – a time-limited lockdown that many accepted because they hoped to enjoy the freedom that Christmas promised. Last minute changes to what we could do at Christmas, I suspect, have gone some way to setting the scene for this latest iteration of the Lockdown. With every lockdown the rules and guidance have been different which perhaps leads to a sense of confusion – is anyone really sure what the rules are? A simple message like ‘stay at home’ now has so many exceptions that it is almost meaningless. We are told that schools are closed but what does that mean when children of key workers go in to school every day (and for some schools that means a lot of children), teachers are still working either from school or from home and children are learning.
Since Lockdown 2.0 a vaccine has been trialled successfully and the vaccination programme has begun. This gives hope (especially to those who are prioritised) but reports of new variants emerging can equally raise doubts. This lockdown is not time-limited – will it end in February? March? April? There are many uncertainties that counterbalance the good news of a suitable vaccine.
This is our context for the season of Epiphany (the revelation of Christ to the nations that come to an end at Candlemas. When Mary and Joseph take Jesus to the Temple (when he is 40 days old), to perform the rites of purification and give thanks to God, they are met by Simeon. He speaks to them of Jesus being a sign – someone who points the way – but this sign will be opposed. He also speaks of the personal cost that Mary will feel as a result of this opposition.
We live in unsettled times. We, perhaps, look for a sign – ‘when will all this end?’ We feel something of the pain of isolation, separation, fear. We worry about the future for ourselves, our children, our grandchildren. We hope the vaccine will bring about a return to ‘normality’ but we have some doubts. The message of epiphany reminds us that in the midst of the most troubled and unsettling times Christ is with us, a sign pointing to the goodness of God and in whom our hope is well-founded.