Merry Christmas, Friends!
I wish you all a deep sense of the joy and peace that God’s greatest gift, Jesus, brings to our lives! It is my fervent prayer that we all encounter Jesus today and in the days to come as we share in the work of the Jesus Movement.
I would love to write only about the mystery and wonder of the Incarnation – Emmanuel, God with us – because that is what this day is all about. Yet, Incarnation doesn’t end with a tiny baby in a manger. Incarnation is also about God’s love being born in each of us and our response to this great gift. If we are merely hoarding this great gift inside of us, we haven’t opened it to be shared with the world around us. Every day, I become more aware of our need to respond to the hurts and suffering caused by policies and programs that neglect those that need help most.
You won’t be surprised to learn that I am grieving the passage of the new tax reform bill. If this is the nation’s Christmas gift, I’d like to exchange it, please. I find it tragic that Congress overlooked the wishes of the people yet again. Some might call it “fake news” but all the polls I’ve seen show the bill having no more than a 35% approval rating from the people of our country. How is this democracy?
My concern is not that my taxes, in particular, might be increased as some of the itemized deductions I have relied on are eliminated but I am concerned about all those for whom this bill will make life even more difficult. After making phone calls and sending emails to legislators, the bill is a “fait accompli” so now it’s time to determine how to respond. As Christians, we are called to be attentive to the needs of our neighbors and communities. I’ve volunteered for St Peter’s Free Health Clinic for the last 15 years and watched our weekly census go from an average of 70 patient visits on Tuesday night to an average of 9 visits after the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid Expansion took effect. This is a good downsizing! We might have considered closing but wanted to wait to see what would happen under the Trump administration. Now, the tax bill eliminates the government mandate to carry health insurance so we anticipate an increase in our weekly census. For the working poor and disabled, the clinic has been literally a life saver before and it will be again. I’m so glad we’re still present in the community to meet the needs of our people. This is just one example of how I can be attentive to my neighbors. If I keep my eyes and ears open, I may soon see other practical things I can do to help even while I continue to make those phone calls and send those emails.
One other way we can all respond is to participate in the “For Such a Time as This” project by joining with other Christians to #PrayFastAct on the 21st of each month. I know that the 21st of December has passed yet I also know that it’s never too late to pray, fast and act. This month, the focus is on the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals “which aim to end poverty and hunger, reduce inequalities, ensure quality education, create opportunities for decent work, care for creation, and promote a peaceful and just global community.” The Episcopal Public Policy (EPPN) has prepared a one-page information sheet about these goals which you might find helpful. There are other resources listed on the EPPN webpage.
When I checked my email this morning (Friday, the 22nd), I found Bishop Gibbs’ Christmas Message which speaks to our imperative to live the reality of Christmas as faithful Christians:
Over the years, I have seen all sorts of internet posts, church marquees and signs in various places that encourage or insist that we need to put “Christ” back in Christmas. I have been one to applaud such a well-meaning attempt to help us remember that Jesus is the central figure of our holiday celebration, not Santa Claus or the constant bombardment of advertisements to buy, buy, buy! Recently, I have noticed a bit of a shift in emphasis. The new message that is appearing and beginning to gain momentum is the need to put “Christ” back in Christian!
The world seems to be in a season of tearing down rather than building-up; a time when having true care, concern and respect for other is an old concept being replaced by electronic modes of social contact. In many ways, permission to treat others as something other than God’s children has been embraced by self-centered people who call themselves Christian, mistakenly asserting that biblical concepts are the foundations that dictate their behavior. The actions of these misguided folks do not reflect the glory of the Prince of Peace and Savior of the world. Perhaps we do need to work on putting “Christ” back in Christian!
Someone has said that “too many people think Christmas is about a mall and not a manger.” We, the followers of Christ – the members of the Jesus Movement – need to keep teaching, preaching and living the truth of our Incarnate God. Like Mary and Joseph, we need to set aside the noise, confusion and judgment of the world that we may hear clearly the voice of the One who comes to save us.
My prayer for each of us this Christmas season is for a renewed appreciation for the gift that is Jesus, the Son of God; and, a rekindled and expectant hope for his coming again in glory.
“May the love of the Creator
The joy of the Spirit
And the peace of the Christ-child
Be with you this Christmas, and evermore. Amen.”
Amen and thank you, Bishop Gibbs. Let us join together in this holy season of Christmas, to keep Christ central to our identity as Christians that others may see the true spirit of Christmas in us.
Let us pray –
Light of the World,
you greet us each morning with new possibilities.
Shine brightly, we pray,
until we see into the dark places of our own lives.
We want to follow you in paths of justice,
speak up with you for liberty,
and bend with you toward the brokenhearted,
even the broken places within ourselves.
We trade in our faint spirits for your mantle of praise –
and with our whole being
we rejoice in you.
(adapted from Feasting on the Word Worship Companion: Liturgies for Year B, Volume 1)
The Rev. Judith Schellhammer, chair, Resolution Review Committee, Diocesan Council