Christmas, 2017

Dear Friends in Christ,

I am in favor of Christmas. I really am. I do believe it is a season of love, hope and peace. I will sing all the hymns on Sunday night with tears in my eyes and joy in my heart.

Yet, I am struggling as I write this. I have in mind two pictures of children. On the one hand, I see the cards and letters from friends bearing the images of babies and grand-babies. They are nearly all vibrant, healthy, protected by loving parents in loving homes. On the other hand, I see a picture from Venezuela, of siblings gathered around the casket of their little sister. She did not die of a disease or in an accident. She died of hunger.

It is hard to hold these two realties together in our minds. How can a just and loving God rule equally over such plenty and such neglect?

I bring this struggle, this question, to the manger. I kneel there and lay it at the feet of the Christ Child. It seems an unfair burden to put upon a baby, but not for this one, I am told. He was born for this burden, or so the Bible says.

I want to believe that – but part of me cannot stand this answer.

I stay on my knees, but my prayer takes a different turn. Really? I protest. I mean, I know the story – the Creation and Fall, the waiting for a Savior. I know the Blood and Redemption that will come from You, the Empty Tomb and the Spirit's power, and the Good News of Mercy and Justice proclaimed to the ends of the earth, and the Last Trumpet that will sound when God will wipe away every tear.

I know, I continue. But for once Lord Jesus, for God's sake, can't you just … fix something? Give that little girl back to her family? Stop for one day, one hour, the greed, hatred and violence? Or carve out a single place on earth, a garden, even a room – not a big room, either: eight by twelve would be fine – which the whole world knows is mysteriously and perfectly free from every affliction, just as proof that You can do it, and a pledge that eventually You will?

 I wait on my knees for an answer. Of course, He cannot speak. Then, something strange happens to my heart.

I get it, once more, that the Christ Child is the answer. I get that He has come not to fix us, but to save us. He has come to not to end human suffering in our own time, but to take it into His heart of love, to forgive our sin at the same time as He endures our sin. I get that He pours forth grace and mercy, justice and power even as He walks among us, loving us, teaching us, healing us, and binding our hearts to the deepest need of every person – the poor and the rich, our friends and our enemies, those we acclaim as heroes and those we despise as villains.

All this He bears in His heart so that we might receive back from Him the knowledge of our true humanity, that we might see the Divine dignity in the face of every human being, that we might rejoice in the Divine Love and love one another as He loves us.

So on Sunday night, let us celebrate the Peace of Christ, but make no peace with sin; pray to be patient with the weaknesses of others, but to be impatient with injustice; ask for mercy and healing for ourselves, and be quick to forgive our neighbor and bless our enemy. For Jesus Christ the Son of God has made His home in our world, that He may bring all things to their perfection, and bring us together on the way.

Faithfully your bishop,

(The Rt. Rev.) Dorsey W.M. McConnell, D.D.

Photo: Detail from Nativity window, Calvary Episcopal Church, Pittsburgh, PA

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