ELCA Presiding Bishop's Christmas Message

( [email protected] ) Dec 09, 2003 10:37 AM EST

The Presiding Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Rev. Mark S. Hanson, released a 2003 Christmas message where he linked together the histories of the past and present through the faith of an unchanging Lord.

The following is the full text of his message.

In those days a decree went out from

Emperor Augustus that all the world should be

registered. This was the first registration

and was taken when Quirinius was governor of

Syria. All went to their own towns to be

registered. Joseph also . . . went to be

registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged

and who was expecting a child. While they

were there, the time came for her to deliver

her child. (Luke 2: 1-2, 4-5, NRSV)

Augustus speaks, and there are universal consequences--no one is exempt from this decree. For the sake of imperial efficiency and control, all must be counted, whole populations put on the move, plans interrupted and dreams set aside, every sort of hardship endured. In the middle of this turmoil, a baby is born far from home, with no fit place to lay his head. What clearer sign could there be, both of the global power of Augustus and the powerlessness of ordinary people?

Today, even as citizens of a resourceful, powerful nation, we are haunted by a sense of helplessness and insignificance. The reach and unpredictability of global economic forces make every job and livelihood uncertain. Accelerating change seems to threaten to dissolve community, making us strangers to each other--and even to ourselves. Preoccupation with our own lives often prevents us from being aware of, and responsive to, suffering throughout the world. As old conflicts endure and new ones spring up around the world, the way to peace is very hard to see, and even harder to walk. The universal reach of terror unsettles us everywhere, leaving no place of sure safety.

But the angel said to them, "Do not be

afraid; for see--I am bringing you good news

of great joy for all the people: to you is

born this day in the city of David a Savior,

who is the Messiah, the Lord."

(Luke 2: 10-11, NRSV)

God's messenger speaks, and there are universal consequences--no one is excluded from this promise! The first to hear are those of no apparent account, a band of scruffy shepherds who are sent to see and then become messengers themselves, joining the angels in stirring wonder in all who hear. Wondrous indeed, that God is at work here and now, that this newborn in a manger is, in fact, God with us, deep in the fragility of our flesh, deep in the world.

Messengers are still finding hearers, and hearers quickly become messengers. Baptismal grace ripples in every direction, creating community without borders. For the One who came to meet us in the manger has not abandoned our world or our lives, but is profoundly present, turning even the fractures caused by thoughtless human power into spaces where the Spirit blows and the Word rings, where in the fragile flesh of the body of Christ, new life dawns with saving promise for all.

O sing to the Lord a new song, for He has

done marvelous things. (Psalm 98:1, NRSV)