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From the gospel of Matthew we read, “After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born King of the Jews?  We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”  (Matthew 2:1-2 NIV)

In January, we celebrate an important moment in the life of the Christ Child. Known as the Epiphany, this celebration marks the moment when the magi arrive at the manger of Bethlehem. They have been journeying with their precious gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. The moment is an “epiphany,” or a manifestation or the realization that God is present with us in the baby Jesus, the One who was born to bring light to the darkness of the world.

Many, if not all of us, long for an epiphany moment when we are reminded that God is still indeed with us. We feel like we have been living in a time of darkness. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought the darkness of separation, isolation, illness and death to too many. Economic loss and unemployment have been taking their toll on our ability to survive, much less thrive. Anxiety and depression have been our emotional companions making it difficult to look at the future with hope. Yet, the prospects for the future are brightened by the beginning of distribution of vaccines and the early signs that herald the end of the pandemic. We cling to the prospect of an end to the pandemic to remain hopeful and trusting in God’s presence with us, all the while continuing to practice safety measures to protect each other and ourselves, to limit interaction and maintain social distancing, to curtail traveling, to scale back in-person activities.

The world was a dark and frightening world when God sent light and life through the birth of a child to bring healing and peace. Our hope resides in the encouraging words of scripture that tell of the birth of Jesus as a light shining in the darkness: “What came into being through the Word was life, and the life was the light for all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness doesn’t extinguish the light.” (John 1:3b-5 CEB)

May those words from John’s gospel ring true today, for still much of the world lives in darkness. In addition to the COVID-19 pandemic, there is rampant economic disparity; unprecedented wealth and luxury for a few; while the multitude of God’s children live in the darkness of disease, disaster, hunger, poverty, oppression, and violence. The vast majority of our sisters and brothers struggle every day just to survive.

In his book, 40 Days With Wesley, Bishop Ruben P. Job wrote these prophetic words that ring true today:

“Far too often we witness national and global tragedies that result in death and wounding of many. We have also seen political leaders divide communities, states, and nations by their rhetoric and actions. It is not a time to offer excuses or to place blame. But it is time for all Christians to remember who we are and to chart and follow a new path –a path that always moves away from violence and toward peace, a path that leads us away from the implied and symbolic threat of much of our national discourse, a path that affirms finding a way forward that benefits all and not just a few, a path that is in harmony with the One we claim as Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, a path that I believe we all want to follow.”

Bishop Job’s words, written some time ago, still have meaning for us now. Division, conflict, wounding of others by our actions, words, thoughts happen daily and this is the time to change this negative, destructive trajectory. Bishop Job admonishes us to steer our path in the direction of caring for one another, especially those who are in need of the love for neighbors that Jesus taught and practiced. The new year is a reminder that God calls us to engage in new things and new ways of practicing our faith. Now is the time for us to rise up and walk the path of Christ followers. Like the three magi, we journey closer and closer to the manger where we worship the Christ child. There, we place before him our gifts of our gratitude, our faithfulness, and our commitment to make our world a place where peace will prevail as it was meant to be.

Are you up for the journey? Will you travel with me? There is much that we are called to do. You are called by God to present the gifts of yourself, your talent, your witness. What gifts will you bring along this journey of faith? What will you offer to the Christ child, to help bring his light to the world? May others who encounter you and me, in our Christian walk together, experience us and see the light of Jesus on each one of us.

In the light of Christ,
Bishop Bob

A POST SCRIPT.  I share with you three notes of encouragement and gratitude from your Conference leadership. Perhaps like the three Magi, the Desert Southwest Conference is pleased to be able to offer to our churches three gifts.

  1. In mid-January, every church in the Desert Southwest Conference (DSC) will receive a letter from Scott Whitmire, president of the DSC Council on Finance and Administration (CF&A). Scott will be sharing great news of a decision by the CF&A in “recognition of the extraordinary work our congregations have done to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic to cover out of reserves one month’s apportionment payment for every church in the Conference.” This gift comes to you with the appreciation of the Conference for your continuing faithfulness in supporting our apportionment giving. Even in this time of dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, our churches have remained faithful. The decline in apportionment giving has been real, but it has not been as much as we feared. In addition, your conference leadership has been carefully watching our spending, resulting in some significant savings to our expenses and we have been blessed that our investment income has contributed positively to our financial position. We hope you receive with this gift the gratitude of the CF&A, the Extended Cabinet, and the Covenant Council.
  1. Another gift from the DSC comes in the form of a significant savings on ZOOM licenses for each church. Through our Conference account, your church can receive a significant discount on an “enterprise level” license with toll-free calling and webinar capacity for up to 500 people. If you have not already signed up for a ZOOM license, please contact our Director of Communications, Christina Dillabough BY JANUARY 15th, 2021.
  1. And finally, the DSC has arranged for each church to receive a free CCLI license for copyright and for streaming. This has already been paid for by the Conference. You do not need to apply for this; it should be reflected in your CCLI account. Again, contact Christina Dillabough if you have any question or concerns.

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