December 24, 2019
Beloved of God:
The Advent wreath has been increasing the light in our sanctuaries and the Christ candle is now lit. Whether we experienced it through Handel's Messiahor Gruber's Silent Night, the songs of Christmas have filled our hearts. The manger scene is prominent before us again as Mary and Joseph welcome their son into the world.
Mary and Joseph knew him as their blessed son; we know him as our Savior, as Emmanuel, God with us. God broke into human history to walk as flesh and blood, evidencing an intimacy with God, embodying and witnessing to authentic shalom.
As I have meditated and prayed during this Advent season, the phrase that continually comes before me is found in John 10:10, The thief enters only to steal, kill and destroy. I came so that they could have life-indeed, so that they could live life to the fullest. This fullness of life cannot be understood as material wealth, power, and prominence if the life of Christ is our measure. That fullness points toward something far deeper and of greater substance.
As the darkness gives way to light and the pains of birth give way to the joy of new life, I hear these words, I came so that they could have life-indeed, so that they could live life to the fullest and I think about:
- Those on the bridge leading from Juarez, Mexico, to El Paso, Texas. On that bridge there are men, women, and children who reside in tents under tarps, fleeing circumstances that most of us cannot fathom. As they seek asylum and sanctuary, their very lives are being held together as precariously as the strings of those coverings, stretched and battered by the wind and the cold and the rain. Through their hopes and tears and fears, I hear: I came so that they could have life-indeed, so that they could live life to the fullest;
- Our youth who are seriously concerned about the stewardship, or lack thereof, and worry about our earth and its future. Are we conscious of the effect of even our most mundane activities such as brewing a pot of coffee, brushing our teeth, using our electronic devices to text and tweet or discarding our plastic water bottles? Do we stop to consider whether the jewelry we've gifted others was mined ethically or the chocolate we enjoyed was processed in factories who employ slave labor? Across the oceans and plains, I hear: I came so that they could have life-indeed, so that they could live life to the fullest;
- Those who are experiencing profound loss in this season of their lives, whether that loss is a physical death, the loss of health and vitality, a relationship or one's livelihood. At a time when the world is experiencing merriment and celebration, these individuals are wrestling with depression and anxiety and brokenness. In their bleak outlook and desolate groans, I hear: I came so that they could have life-indeed, so that they could live life to the fullest;
- Individuals who are rejected by society because they do not meet a preconceived and contrived standard of normalcy. People who rise every day and struggle under the weight of bias, skepticism, injustice, poverty and systemic disempowerment. They look in the mirror and attempt to transcend the cognitive dissonance of being created in the Imago Dei but are treated as if they are a distortion of God's image. In their struggle and resistance, I hear: I came so that they could have life-indeed, so that they could live life to the fullest.
In Emmanuel, God with us, our Creator promised to walk with us in our times of struggle, hardship and adversity. The prophecy foretells that His kingdom will be established and sustained with justice and righteousness. These promises are not to be understood as being fulfilled only in our future; rather, they will be fulfilled in our present lives as well. This is God's mercy for us -- for all of us.
Beloved, as we walk into Christmastide and continue experiencing Emmanuel, I am deeply grateful for the ways you are increasing the light in your communities. As skilled servant workers, both lay and clergy, you are pouring yourselves out for the sake of the Gospel in profound and sacrificial ways. You are transforming lives.
May we continue to embody and witness to shalom in service to the world and humanity, that all may experience life.
Indeed, life to the fullest.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
Bishop LaTrelle Easterling