A Christmas Message from the Rt. Rev. Thomas C. Ely, December 21, 2018
I’m recording this message of Christmas greeting during the waning days of Advent and, while Advent is often a season of hope and expectation for me, I’ve kind of felt like I’ve been faking it a bit this year – saying the words, but not fully believing them. Maybe, I’m being melancholy because I’m thinking that this is my last Christmas as your bishop, but I think it goes deeper than that. It is the world’s pain that is making me particularly sad this year.
I recently participated in an event honoring the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, yet I look around and my heart aches at the sight of so many dignity violations in our world today. Dignity violations like the vilification of our siblings from Central America fleeing fear and violence in hope of a better, safer life; and the disparagement of migrant farm workers right here in Vermont, human beings upon whom? most of us depend;
And the dignity violations expressed through acts of verbal, physical and sexual violence, and bullying, especially such acts against women and our LGBTQ siblings;
Not to mention the ceaseless and senseless mass shootings so close to home, conflicts and wars raging around the globe; and the refusal of so many to recognize and honor our sacred responsibility to care for God’s creation.
Perhaps you’ve witnessed these dignity violations or experienced some that I have not named.
Amid these and other expressions of the world’s pain and suffering, I am mindful of how timely The Way of Love that our Presiding Bishop has invited us to reflect upon and embrace as a spiritual Rule of Life is, and I encourage you to engage in these practices for a Jesus-centered life.
As a respite from my sense of melancholy, I came across a hymn from the Reverend Ally Barrett from the U.K., whose poetry and hymnody I recently discovered. It is an Advent Hymn pointing to the hope of incarnation, while recognizing the reality and pain of the world. She spoke to my heart’s pain, while also offering a word of hope to me and I hope perhaps to you:
[This is an Advent hymn, to the tune ‘Picardy’ (aka Let all mortal flesh keep silence)]
Longing for a hope-filled morning,
Kingdom of the Son, draw near!
Waiting for the day soon dawning,
Light of love that casts out fear.
Dayspring, come from heav’n, in lowly birth,
Come to warm this cold, dark earth.
Sorrow through the world is sweeping,
Bitter conflict rages still,
Heaven hears its children weeping:
cost of humankind’s freewill.
Come, O Prince of Peace, in lowly birth,
Come to mend this broken earth.
Pattern of the world’s salvation,
God and human side by side.
Color, language, creed or nation,
No more should the world divide:
Come, Emmanuel, in lowly birth,
Show how heav’n embraces earth.
Finally, several years ago, while serving as Superior of the Society of Saint John the Evangelist, Brother Curtis Almquist wrote these words that resonate well with me this year, and so along with Ally’s hymn, I share them as the heart of my Christmas message to you:
Many of the hymns and carols we prepare to sing in Christmastide are familiar and dear, yet they are also solemn reminders about Christ Jesus, born among us. What shall it mean this Christmastide for us to sing of the good news of great joy and to herald peace on earth when wars rage on so many fronts? So many millions of children will face an unwelcomed silent night at Christmas because they have lost their family members to AIDS or in battle, or because they are starving for love or for food. We are God’s messengers to bring Christ’s justice, peace, goodwill, and love to this world. Our Christmas recommitment is not just to believe in Christ, but to bear Christ in a world dying to know the very things promised of the Messiah. We are intended to be the Christmas gift.
May you have a blessed Christmas as you embrace being and living the gift you are intended by God to be.