A Christmas Message from Bishop Mark

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“The early Christians did not say in dismay, “Look what the world has come to,” but in delight, “Look what has come to the world.” The early Christians saw not merely the ruin, but the Resource for the reconstruction of that ruin. They saw not merely that sin did abound, but that grace did much more abound. On that assurance the pivot of history swung from blank despair, loss of moral nerve, and fatalism, to faith and confidence that at last sin had met its match.”

Those words were written by Methodist missionary E. Stanley Jones during the upheaval of World War II in which tens of millions of military and civilians were killed, and even more were wounded. During this past year, we have witnessed the deaths and ruin that have taken place in Ukraine. It’s been a time when people have revived that expression, “Look what the world has come to.”

As we gather in our churches and in our homes with friends and family, the voice of the angels in Bethlehem remind us to “look what has come to the world.” The story of the birth of Christ includes elements of the negative experiences of life. Ask a pregnant mother how awful it was for the Blessed Virgin Mary to travel to Bethlehem on a donkey! And how about the frustration of arriving only to find the hotel is overbooked and there are no rooms available, or going to your favorite restaurant and being turned away because a large group arrived ahead of you!

Those experiences can lead us to cynicism and anger which ruin our expectation for a Merry Christmas. That’s where Rev. Stanley Jones’ friendly reminder can be of help. The early Christians he speaks about are those who witnessed or heard of Christ’s death and who were told he had been raised from the dead and ascended to the Father in heaven. But they did not despair! How is that?

They constantly reminded and encouraged each other with the words, “Look what has come to the world.” In the last words of Christ before he returned to the Father in heaven, Jesus told them and he tells us: “I am with you always, until the end of the world” (Matthew 28:20). During the season of Advent our prayer is: “Come Lord Jesus.” It is an awesome prayer of joyful hope. It is a prayer that was heard and answered for shepherds and wise men in the Christmas story. It is a prayer that changes our hearts from complaining “Look what the world has to come to,” into “Look what has come into the world!”

In our celebration of the Birth of Christ this year, remember how E. Stanley Jones described this essential truth: “The early Christians saw not merely the ruin, but the Resource for the reconstruction of that ruin. They saw not merely that sin did abound, but that grace did much more abound. On that assurance the pivot of history swung from blank despair, loss of moral nerve, and fatalism, to faith and confidence that at last sin had met its match.”

The darkness of world events and our own personal headaches and heartaches will not be outdone by the strength, hope, and joy that comes from the one who has come into the world to bring us hope, strength, and peace. With prayers for you and your loved ones at Christmas and in the coming New Year,

Bishop Mark