News and Views

Bishop Easterling's Christmas message

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The 'thrill of hope' is ours to claim

I greet you in the hope-filled name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ. As we move through the expectation of Advent and into the miracle of Christmas, we come together once more as a people of faith.

The birth of our Savior comes every year, whether we are immersed in celebration and merriment or in the depths of grief and despair. For too many, the latter expression is still prevalent. We certainly hoped that this Christmas would arrive with the pandemic, war and in-fighting behind us. However, emergency rooms remain full with those battling serious illnesses, wars are still raging, and our denomination continues to struggle with the reality that disaffiliations are tearing us apart. Gun violence continues to be rampant in our communities and hatred still blinds many to the inherent worth of every life. And yet, the gift of a Savior is ours every Christmas, with all of the promise and hope and joy that accompanies his birth.

As I was attending a Philharmonic Holiday concert and heard a beautiful rendition of O Holy Night, I was deeply moved by the verse, “A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices.” While this is one of my favorite carols, that verse has never moved me the way it did on that particular evening. On Christmas Day, there is a thrill of hope, there is the entrance of one who comes despite our circumstances to make all things new. Even though we are weary from death, grief and loss, we still have a thrill of hope. How are we to understand this hope?

Henri Nouwen, the renowned theologian, writer and priest, explained the hope of Christmas this way, “the fulfillment of great expectations; it is the remembrance of the most intimate mystery of life; the birth of God in an agonizing world; it is the planting of seeds of compassion, freedom, and peace in a harsh and unfree society; it is Hope in a new earth to come.” Mary understood how to hold onto hope in an agonizing and weary world.

Mary was a young woman promised in marriage but not yet a wife. She lived in times when women were without agency and easily shamed if their lives deviated from the expected norms. She was visited by an angel of God who prophesied that she would bear a son who would upright the lowly, quench the thirst of those who longed for justice and feed those hungry for good things. The child knit together in her womb by the power of the Holy Spirit would bring deliverance to all who called upon his name. This was the promise offered to Mary and she received it in faith. The words of the angel filled her with the thrill of hope. That hope remained as she faced the scandal of pregnancy without the benefit of marriage. That hope remained as she traveled over rough terrain carrying a child. That hope endured as she and her beloved arrived at their destination only to be turned away. That hope was secure even as she gave birth among animals in a noxious stall. In surroundings that could have induced her into anger, despair and feelings of betrayal, Mary rejoiced in the fulfillment of God’s promise to her.

God’s promises to creation have been fulfilled again and again and again. As beautifully written in Lamentations, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. ‘The Lord is my portion,' says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in him.’” Beloved, the thrill of hope is ours. Our weary world can rejoice because God is good, joy will come in the morning, death does not have the final word and justice shall prevail. A new and glorious morn pierces even the darkest night and brings on her wings renewed strength for the journey.

May you rise on Christmas Sunday morning filled with the thrill of hope. May that thrill be yours, not because all is as you would desire, but because the Prince of Peace is with us, we have the gift of everlasting love, all oppression shall cease and every promise made shall be fulfilled.

 Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

 Bishop LaTrelle Easterling
Peninsula-Delaware and Baltimore-Washington Conferences
The United Methodist Church