Dear Friends in Christ,
There is a place called Joyland.
It's a little tavern in the eastern part of this diocese. I pass it on the way to our parishes there, generally on a Sunday, when it's closed. So, admittedly, I probably don't see it at its best. It has a sad feel about it, as you can tell by the sign. The building looks about the same, like it has been through the wars, like the face of an old fighter who perhaps should have gotten out of the ring ten years before he did.
But there is also something beautiful about it. The faded hope in the sign itself is still a hope. There are hints of its former glory, when it roared with activity as a "classic roadhouse." You can almost hear the music from the old days, from big band to '50s hits. I wonder, over the decades, how many first dates happened there, how many proposals, how many victories were celebrated. I wonder, too, how much bitterness was drowned there, how many grudges nursed, how much grief revisited again and again, in the hope of getting over it.
It looks like the kind of place the Son of God might be born in.
You know the story of the stable in Bethlehem, the little cave where the inn's livestock were kept. I'll bet the innkeeper had been using it as overflow accommodations for years before Mary and Joseph stumbled into town. How many other couples were there before, and since, travelers too poor to afford a real bed for the night? How many deadbeat gamblers, lost salesmen, and frightened refugees found a few hours of rest there before facing once more the hardship of their lives?
The little cave had already been blessed before the Holy Family arrived. It had been consecrated by those who had sheltered there, even though the air of the place had for years been infused with as many drunken sighs, desperate oaths, and hopeless prayers as the air of any tavern. Though so much despair had come through the door at night and so much anxiety had gone out in the morning, all of it was carried in the minds and hearts and frames of human beings who, no matter how beaten down or full of sin, still bore in their nature the Image of God. All they were waiting for, though they did not know it, was for that nature to be redeemed.
One night, a couple, like any other, spent the night there and had a baby, like any other, and wrapped Him up and nursed Him, and waited for the dawn. Only, this child was the One every other needed, the One for whom all had been waiting. This Jesus was not only the Image, but the Godhead that made the Image. He was not merely the promise of hope, He was Hope Itself. His very birth inaugurated the Kingdom of His Father and unleashed into the world the final movement of God's long struggle to win back by love what man had forfeited by sin.
Given where He started out, how could it surprise Him that the world was often dark and cold and ugly? Given the air that fed His first breaths, how could He have failed to know the sighs and oaths and hopeless prayers we exhale every day? Nothing about us put Him off, nothing we threw at Him, not even the Cross where He took upon himself the sin of the world and finished what the stable began. Not even the last little cave, where they buried Him, was enough to hold Him back from ending death and pouring His Spirit and His Presence into the world, where He will be until the end of time, no matter how beaten and ugly, or how much like the face of an old fighter, the signs of our own lives may sometimes look.
So, this Christmas, welcome to Joyland.
Whatever you are celebrating,
whatever you are grieving,
whatever you flee,
whatever you hate,
whatever crime you have committed which you still insist is not your fault,
whatever blow you have endured you cannot get over,
just admit that the Christ has chosen to be born there, right there.
There, He knows you.
There, He loves you.
He is not afraid of you.
He is not ashamed of you.
You are the one He has sought from before the foundations of the world.
The music you hear is His.
The road at the door is His.
Let Him take your hand and get you safely home.
Faithfully your bishop,
(The Rt. Rev.) Dorsey W.M. McConnell, D.D.