Grace and peace to you in this time of preparation for the celebration of the birthday of our Savior, Jesus Christ!
This is a wonderful time in our churches! Sanctuaries and social halls have been beautifully and lovingly decorated with the vibrant colors of Christmas. Candles and poinsettias grace our altars. Choirs are fine-tuning their best offerings for Christmas cantatas and worship. Children are rehearsing their parts for the staging of the story of the birth of Jesus as told in the Holy Scriptures. Pastors are readying their most profound thoughts about the significance of the birth of Jesus to be preached to the masses that will come to worship on Christmas Eve. And perhaps like me, you are humming or singing some of the familiar Christmas carols that tell of our faith in the Christ child.
In 1868 or so, poet Phillips Brooks wrote these words of the Christmas carol, “O Little Town of Bethlehem.”
O holy child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray;
cast out our sin, and enter in, be born in us today.
We hear the Christmas angels the great glad tidings tell;
O come to us, abide with us, our Lord Emmanuel!
As we sing this carol during the seasons of Advent preparation and Christmas joy, these aged words speak anew to us in a prayer that asks that the spirit of the Christ child might be born again in each of our lives.
We live in difficult and challenging times! We need to hear again the story of God who is made known to humankind in the birth of the holy child of Bethlehem. Our world and our own lives are touched by evidence of the hardships and struggles that many are facing. The media are filled with stories that demonstrate this reality. Violence, sin and evil are rampant. Today, more than ever, I fear for the safety and the security of the younger generations. As I write these words, yet another senseless tragic shooting has taken the lives of innocent persons at an elementary school in Connecticut. We in the Desert Southwest Conference are no strangers to the sorrow and horror of such a shooting tragedy! Yet each time something like this occurs, I find myself grieving for the way we humans treat others.
What message does the holy child of Bethlehem offer to us in such times?
First, the message of hope. I believe wholeheartedly that our faith gives us security even in these difficult moments when senseless violence claims lives and shatters the sense of “peace” of individuals and communities. We are offered the reassuring word that no matter what happens in our lives, God is with us. We may not easily perceive God’s presence, but we often have the experience of looking back at particular moments in our lives when we might have felt abandoned by God, only to discover that God was present in ways that we could not perceive at that moment.
So when we face moments of violence and loss, we pray: Come to me, Lord God, help me to feel your presence in these difficult moments. Do not let me lose faith; help me to trust that you are here with me, guiding me, supporting me, and watching over me.
Secondly, the message of empowerment. The holy child of Bethlehem calls us to give ourselves for the betterment of the world in which we live. I believe that when we come face to face with evil and suffering, our faith empowers us to confront that evil and work to alleviate the human suffering that often accompanies it. Since evil exists, our work is unfinished. Rather than run away from the source of suffering and pain, faithful followers of Jesus Christ work to combat the evil around us, changing the world through our ministries of love and grace. That is the power of transformation of our God through faith. When Christ is truly born anew in our hearts, we reaffirm our commitment to ministry in the name of Jesus Christ.
Our prayer then is: Lord Jesus, may your spirit be with me to inspire me to do what is just and right. Guide my thoughts, my words, and my actions and inspire me to live a life that overflows in acts of kindness and love in your name.
Third, the message of salvation. The story of the birth of Jesus is only half of the story of God’s love for us. The words of John 3:16 are inseparable from the story of the birth of Jesus. We cannot talk about the birth of Jesus without also acknowledging that we celebrate the birth of our Savior! Besides teaching us how to live on earth, Christmas teaches us that we will one day also live in heaven.
Our prayer: God, gracious and wonderful! We thank you for the Christmas gift given to us in Jesus Christ our Savior. May we live our lives in such a way as to demonstrate to you and to the world our appreciation for that gift to us. Help us to share that Good News to others, so the world might come to know Jesus Christ.
In these waning days of the season of Advent, I hope all your preparations are done. With homes decorated, with the Christmas cards in the mail and on their way, with gift shopping completed and plans for holiday travel or family festivities all in place, I pray that you will have time to ponder again the importance of the birth of the Christ child and that you will find deep meaning for your life in the knowledge that God loves us, loves each one of us. May these days be rich in the deep love of family and friends, and the assurance of faith!
In Christ’s shalom,