Beloved in Christ,
A blessed and joyful Christmas to you all! May the love of God overflow in you and all those you love, this festive season, as you share in celebrating the greatest Christmas present of all, God’s gift of himself, Emmanuel – God with us, always and everywhere, no matter what we face in life.
There is a story about a small girl, who was taken by her grandmother to see the nativity scene at her local church. ‘Isn’t that beautiful?’ said the grandmother. ‘Look at all the animals, and Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus.’ ‘Yes, Granny’ replied the little girl, ‘it’s lovely, but there’s one thing I don’t understand. Isn’t baby Jesus ever going to grow up? He’s still the same size he was last year.’
Whether the story is true, I have no idea. But I do know that sometimes we concentrate on Christ’s infancy, and fail to grasp that Christmas is at least as much about his deity – the eternal Word taking flesh, to be the Saviour of the world. His complete vulnerability and weakness as a tiny baby points to the vulnerability and weakness he will embrace as he allows himself to be crucified for the sins of the world, to bring healing and redemption wherever there is brokenness and destruction, and to overcome death so we might have life in abundance, in this world, and in all eternity.
St. John the Evangelist, in the famous words that begin his gospel, speaks of Christ being to us a light in our darkness, a light that no darkness can put out. These words of course resonate more strongly at Christmas time in the northern part of the diocese, but even in the height of our southern summer in San Antonio, I find them powerfully speaking of the promise of true hope, no matter how bleak our circumstances.
Through Christ’s redemptive power, a means for us to find healing is manifested, and to be made his conduits for reconciliation and peace-building. As Christmas draws near, it seems to me that in bringing, as we must, our stories, our memories, our pain, our stress, our woundedness, to Jesus, we are almost offering them as the Wise Men offered their gifts, the marks of their own lives, kneeling before the infant king – so that he can transform them for his own, life-giving, purposes.
The Wise Men came to the manger because they had spent long years learning how to interpret the heavens, and so recognized the importance of the star when it appeared. Reading the signs of the times is the task of all Christian leaders, so that we can bring to bear the truths of the gospel, with all its promises of life and liberty, wherever we find war, death, oppression and their lasting effects at work. This is God’s promise for the Diocese of Mid-America, and for all his children throughout the Anglican Province of America, our inter-communion partners, and all the faithful Christians of the world. And so we must not be afraid to speak truth to power, and be responsive to the needs of God’s people, whom we are called to serve through joining in God’s mission.
We aspire to be like the prophet Isaiah, responding to God’s call by saying ‘Here am I, send me!’ (Is 6:8) Yet, the words of St. Paul in Romans 12, remind us that this response finds its place within a far wider missional context of presenting ourselves as ‘living sacrifices’. (This is, of course, an essential part of the incarnation – culminating in Christ’s sacrificial death upon the cross.) St. Paul goes on to remind us that we must not ‘think too highly of ourselves’, but rather find our place within the body of Christ, the Church, called to serve one another with whatever gifts we are privileged to receive; and together to serve the world around us. ‘Peace be with you! As the Father sends me, so I send you’ said the risen Christ to his disciples (Jn 20:19-23) – and this is still his message and his call to all who would follow him.
So then, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, may you all have a wonderful celebration of Christmas – worshipping the Christ-child, but also growing in your own knowledge and love of God so you may not be mere ‘children, tossed to and fro and blown about’ by every difficulty and temptation that comes your way, but rather may come ‘to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.’ (Eph 4:13,14). To him be glory in his church, now at Christmas, and always.
Yours in the service of Christ,
The Rt. Rev. Robert Todd Giffin
Bishop Ordinary, Diocese of Mid-America
Episcopal Visitor, Diocese of the West
Anglican Province of America
San Antonio, TX