“The Shepherds,” by John August Swanson

On behalf of all of us at St. Paul’s Commons, Echo Park; from Kathy Hannigan O’Connor’s and my home to yours; in our companionship along the broad Anglican way, seeking God’s righteousness, justice, and, in one another, God’s beautiful plural face; in anticipation of our remembrance of the moment in Bethlehem when creation boggled at the immensity and the minute particularity of the love of our God in Christ – I write to wish you and those you love a blessed, peaceful, rejuvenating, and hope-addled Christmas.

I reckon you and me, each of us, as precious and unique members of a diocesan family pledged to manifest Christ’s abundant love as only we Episco-Pals can, in scary, secularizing, spiritually hungry times that need Christ as desperately as in any era since the days of the apostles. Remember that even in the first years along the Way, when people still lived who had experienced Jesus in the flesh, witnessed his death and Resurrection, and even heard the tales of his birth in Bethlehem and childhood in Nazareth, the average Christian’s neighbor wasn’t likely to believe as they did, any more than our neighbor is likely to believe as we do.

Yet with determination and against terrific odds, the apostles proclaimed the saving love of Christ – and we do as well. We do it because, by grace, the Bethlehem baby has found room in our hearts. Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing. We do it because our faith and practice make us strong. They light our way toward the peace and joy God has prepared for us. They bind us together in fellowship and service. When the world makes us tremble – when tyranny is on the march, bigotry rips at the tender bonds our loving God has created among all God’s creatures, or personal challenges beset us – our faith and practice are our courage and hope.

Kathy and I have four children and two grandchildren. With you, we worry about what the ghosts of all our possible Christmases future portend. Ruinous climate change, and rumors of widening war. Socio-economic upheaval, and society’s persistent failure to provide freedom and justice for all. Life’s inevitable losses and sadnesses. Whatever our dreads, they feel the same in the 21st century as in the first.

The Christmas story is dread’s antidote. Isaiah, the prophet of Advent, declares, “Do not fear, or be afraid; have I not told you of old and declared it?” Matthew says an angel of the Lord told Joseph not to fear people’s gossip about Mary. In Luke, the angels tell the shepherds not to be afraid, because they bring tidings of great joy, the birth of the Savior of the world.

During Holy Week, we recall Christ’s work on the cross. Christmas was God’s and Mary’s labor of love. Both mighty acts wear away at the power of fear. Fear paralyzes us; Christ’s love empowers us. Fear pits people against one another; love binds us together. Fear teaches that we can’t; Christ whispers that we must. Fear can only lead us and the world to darker and darker places; we see it in our lives and in the news every day. Christ’s love redeems the whole creation over and over again.

God bless you this Christmas, and in the year to come.

Members of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles received this message today by email in English and Spanish. If you would like to be on our mailing list, please send me your email address: jtaylor@ladiocese.org