by Rev. Matt Ashley, South District Missional Strategist & Superintendent
“On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage.
Then, opening their treasure-chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.” ~Matthew 2:11~
In 2020, my wife Felida and I enjoyed a quiet Christmas at home. Isolated from celebrating with our families by Covid19, we talked with them on the telephone and missed them from afar. Without in-person worship gatherings in South District churches, we celebrated Christmas by worshipping online with several different congregations.
It was a strange and different Christmas celebration, but Christmas always comes. Every Christmas, Christ brings peace, hope, joy and love into the world and into our hearts.
In my first newsletter article of 2021, I talked about what I was yearning for in the New Year:
“Who knows what 2021 will bring? I am praying with many of you for a return home to worshipping together in our churches, for safety in being together without worry or concern, for a reunion with loved ones and friends from whom we’ve been separated. I am looking forward to the opportunity for more road trips around the South District and the Desert Southwest Conference.”
I am grateful that for me, many of those prayers have come true. My wife and I have had joyful reunions with our families. Most of our churches are back to worshipping in person, and by now my wife Felida and I have visited almost all of the 29 churches in the South District. We have learned that with vaccinations, masks, distancing, handwashing, and other reasonable safety precautions, we can greatly reduce the risk of Covid outbreaks in our churches, though we are still missing some people who are not ready to return yet. My wife and I have had joyful reunions with our families.
I am grateful for these gifts. Many of us have been able to gather together in 2021, even if we could not do so last Christmas.
Christmas is a time for gathering, ever since its inception. Shepherds were sent by an angel to find the manager. There they found Mary and Joseph and the baby, surrounded by animals, surrounded by the love and care of God, the first Christmas gathering.
The Magi, the wise ones, followed a star on a long journey to Jerusalem, asking where they could find the child born King of the Jews. They were brought before the power-hungry King Herod, whose alarms went up by this talk of a potential rival to his throne. Herod sent them to Bethlehem and asked them to come back and report to him when they’d found the child.
And the star rests over the house where the Holy Family is staying. They enter. They kneel. They honor him as Lord and King. They open their treasure chests and offer him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh – gifts for a King.
Warned in a dream that King Herod was mad for power and would do desperate and destructive things to keep it, the Magi do not return to him as he’d requested; they go home by another road.
Matthew 2:16-18 tells us that King Herod then goes on a murderous spree. Like the Egyptian Pharoah centuries before, he sends his soldiers to murder Bethlehem’s youngest children, hoping to eliminate this new threat to his throne.
There are always King Herods in the world – desperate men and women who will do desperate and destructive things to hold on to power.
But there is also always Christmas. There are always gifts of hope, peace, joy, and love. These gifts from us as disciples, as followers of Jesus who are committed to resisting evil, injustice, and oppression in all its forms.
Christmas prepares us for what comes next. Christmas prepares us to face the world’s Herods.
This year we will celebrate Christmas. Many of us will gather. And together we will sing.
‘Joy to the world. The Lord is come! Let Earth receive her King!’
Thanks for listening –