Presiding Bishop Advent Message, 2023
Presiding Bishop Advent Message, 2022, “Love Always” –
A number of years ago I read a book by Roberta Bondi who at that time was teaching at the Candler School of Theology at Emory University. The title of the book was “To Love as God Loves.” Professor Bondi in that book looked at and examined early Christians. And one of the things she observed was that early Christians saw their vocation of following Jesus as learning how to love as God loves. And that was the title of the book, “To Love as God Loves.”
If that is true, as I believe it is, when we look at the New Testament stories of Jesus, and particularly the stories around Christmas, we see early glimmers of Jesus showing us how to love as God loves. The Christmas stories found in Matthew and in Luke, for example, actually show us something about God’s way of love.
We all know the Christmas stories, the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes as it’s found in Luke’s gospel, the baby that’s born of Mary, the stories of Mary while she was pregnant meeting her cousin Elizabeth, and the words of the Magnificat-“My soul doth magnify the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”
We know the stories of Mary giving birth in the manger because there was no room for them in the inn, the stories of the shepherds out on the field beholding the angel choir- “Gloria in Excelsis Deo.” The stories of a baby born is the story of beauty, a story of hope; for as the Jewish tradition says, every child who is born is a reminder that God is not finished with the world yet. In this case, the baby that was born was named Jesus.
Matthew tells the same story but highlights other dimensions that remind us profoundly of the way God loves. In Matthew’s story, the child is born and there is great beauty in it, but there is some difficulty, even in the relationship between Mary and Joseph when they discover that she is with child before they’re actually married. But an angel intervenes and tells Joseph in the dream that this child is God’s miracle.
And so Joseph accepts his responsibility and cares for Mary and the baby Jesus who is to be born. And all moves along well. And in Matthew’s version there is the star, the Magi or the wise men who come from afar, but then the story takes a dark turn.
And all of a sudden the same beauty that surrounded the birth of a child now is tinged by an ugliness of tyranny, the ugliness of injustice, the ugliness of hatred, the ugliness of unbridled selfishness as King Herod hears rumors of a rival to his throne being born and begins plans to execute children to stamp out his rival. In Matthew, that is the context for the birth of Jesus.
And Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus when he is born are forced to flee as refugees seeking political asylum, eventually in Egypt, because of the wrath of King Herod. They are saved from the destruction, but many do die.
In the late 1930s, The Episcopal Church embarked on efforts to save refugees who were fleeing tyranny, evil, injustice, bigotry, hatred in Europe at the advent of the Second World War. In The Episcopal Church, Episcopalians and many other Christians and Jewish people in the United States and people of goodwill and human decency worked together in a variety of ways to save as many refugees as they could.
And at that time, Episcopalians created this image. And it shows Mary holding the baby Jesus in her arms on the donkey with Joseph walking with them. And as you can see, the sign said, “In the name of these refugees, aid all refugees.”
The Christmas stories are reminders that this Jesus came to show us how to love as God loves. And one of the ways we love as God loves is to help those who are refugees, those who seek asylum from political tyranny, poverty, famine, or other hardship.
In the 1930s, Episcopalians did this to love as God loves, and today, ministries like Episcopal Migration Ministries, the work of this church, have helped to resettle some 100,000 refugees as of December 2021. And that work goes on for refugees from Afghanistan and from other places around the world.
The Christian vocation as Jesus taught us is to love as God loves. And in the name of these refugees, let us help all refugees.
God love you. God bless you. And, this Christmas, may God hold us all in those almighty hands of love.
Presiding Bishop Advent Message, 2020
Joy to the world! The Lord is come: let earth receive her King; let every heart prepare him room, and heaven and nature sing. Perhaps like me, you’ve sung this hymn for years – in church, at home with your family, gathered with friends and neighbors. Perhaps you’ve sung it to yourself – in your car, on a walk, or quietly in the dark of night. Joy to the world! While we may not feel joyful this year – as the pandemic of disease continues to bring sickness and death, when fear and mistrust – a darkness – threatens to overcome the light – we, as followers of Jesus Christ must bear joy to this aching world. We must shine light into the darkness. Joy to the world! Like much in our lives, proclaiming joy is difficult work – also good and essential work – especially now. Though we mourn that which is lost in our lives, our families, and our communities – Joy to the world! While we strive to pull up the twisted and thorny vines of hatred and bigotry and anger – Joy to the world! Through streaming tears and gritted teeth – Joy to the world! – because God is breaking into our lives and into this world anew. While this is a strange year, the ministry He gives us remains the same. We will prepare him room in our hearts by taking on the ministry Jesus demands of us: feed those who are hungry; welcome the stranger; clothe those who are naked; heal those who are sick; visit the prisoner. Love God. Love your neighbor. Sing joy into this old world. Prepare him room. St. Luke writes of the first Christmas, “[Mary] gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” There, in the simplest bed, in the cool of the night, in a trough, in bands of cloth, lies the One for whom no room was made. And yet strangely, there lies the One whom not even the universe can contain. Joy to the world! The Lord is come. In your hearts, in your homes, in your lives, prepare him room. God love you; God bless you; and may God hold us all in those almighty hands of love.
Presiding Bishop Advent Message, 2019Link
Presiding Bishop Advent Message, 2018Link
Presiding Bishop Advent Message, 2017Link
Presiding Bishop Advent Message, 2016Link
Presiding Bishop Advent Message, 2015Written
Presiding Bishop Advent Message, 2014
Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, in her Christmas Message 2014 prays: “May Christ be born anew in you this Christmastide. May his light burn in you, and may you labor to spread it in the darkness.”
" The altar hanging at an English Advent service was made of midnight blue, with these words across its top: “We thank you that darkness reminds us of light.” Facing all who gathered there to give thanks were images of night creatures – a large moth, an owl, a badger, and a bat – cryptic and somewhat mysterious creatures that can only be encountered in the darkness.
" As light ebbs from the days and the skies of fall, many in the Northern Hemisphere associate dark with the spooks and skeletons of secular Hallowe’en celebrations. That English church has reclaimed the connection between creator, creation, and the potential holiness of all that is. It is a fitting reorientation toward the coming of One who has altered those relationships toward new possibilities for healing and redemption.
" Advent leads us into darkness and decreasing light. Our bodies slow imperceptibly with shorter days and longer nights, and the merriness and frantic activity around us are often merely signs of eager hunger for light and healing and wholeness.
" The Incarnation, the coming of God among us in human flesh, happened in such a quiet and out of the way place that few noticed at first. Yet the impact on human existence has been like a bolt of lightning that continues to grow and generate new life and fire in all who share that hunger.
" Jesus is among us like a flitting moth – will we notice his presence in the street-sleeper? He pierces the dark like a silent, streaking owl seeking food for hungry and defenseless nestlings. He will overturn this world’s unjust foundations like badgers undermining a crooked wall. Like the bat’s sonar, his call comes to each one uniquely – have we heard his urgent “come and follow”?
" God is among us, and within us, and around us, encountering, nudging, loving, transforming the world and its creatures toward the glorious dream the shepherds announced so many years ago, toward the beloved community of prophetic dreams, and the nightwatch that proclaims “all is well, fear not, the Lord is here.”
" May Christ be born anew in you this Christmastide. May his light burn in you, and may you labor to spread it in the darkness. The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light, and it is the harbinger of peace for all creation.
Presiding Bishop Advent Message, 2013
"Advent is a time of waiting and for many people it’s a time to reflect on what Mary must have experienced as she waited for the birth of this unusual child.
" You may never have been pregnant or lived with someone who was, but put yourself in her place for a while. Consider what it would have been like to have a new life growing within you. And reflect on what new is growing within you this season of Advent.
" What new concern is growing for the people around you? What new burden is on your heart for the woes of the world? What new possibility do you see emerging in the world around you, and how might you be part of that?
" Advent is a quieter time of the year in the Church’s understanding. It’s a time to be still and listen, listen deep within to what is growing, ready to emerge into new life.
" And as the season for the birth of the Christ Child arrives, I would encourage you to consider how you yourself will be present in the world in a new way this year. How will you give evidence of love incarnate to the world around you?
" I pray that you have a blessed and joyful and peace-filled Advent. God be with you.
Presiding Bishop Advent Message, 2012
The presiding bishop offered in 2012 a video Advent message for the Episcopal Church, asking the question, "What is it that you are most waiting for?
"As you prepare for the season of Advent, I would commend two questions to your musings and your prayer and your meditation: What is it that you are most waiting for? And, how are you going to wait this year?
"I’m struck this particular season by the waiting of several women in Christian history. Mary obviously, waiting for the birth of the Promised One in her part of the world, a child born for the whole world.
"Also Elizabeth, mother of John the Baptizer, who comes before Jesus. Elizabeth has been promised a child in her old age, these are both very unexpected births, they are waiting.
"And I’m struck particularly this year by Elizabeth of Hungary, a saint of the Church who lived in the thirteenth century, who was betrothed as a child herself, married at 14, a mother of three by the time her husband died when she was 20. She spent her life giving it away, giving it away both physically through her means and through her presence and her healing. She was an icon of generosity.
"What is it you wait for this year? Is it an opportunity to meet the surprising around you? Is it an opportunity to reflect on what is most needed in your heart and in the world around you? How are you going to wait for that gift? Are you going to wait actively? Engaged? Honing your desire? Stoking the passion within you for that dream? Are you going to wait for a dream that will bless the whole world?
"That’s what Christians wait for in the season of Advent – of the coming of the Prince of Peace, the one who will reign with justice over this world. I believe that’s what the world most needs, this year and every year.
"May your season of waiting be fruitful and blessed. May it be filled with surprise and a willingness to engage that surprise.
"A blessed Advent.