Dear Parents, Teachers and Students,
In a year that has been beset with unanticipated challenges and the spread of a deadly virus, we still have so many blessings for which to be grateful for as we are approaching the exquisite season of Christmas and the gift of a new year 2021. Christmas promises to be more than memorable this year 2020, thanks to the coronavirus pandemic. People across the globe will find their celebration of Jesus’ birth quarantined, their travel and family gatherings curtailed. Manger Square in Bethlehem on Christmas Eve will likely resound with comparative quiet, as will countless churches where “silent night” will have more to do with fear and anxiety on earth than heavenly peace. Carols and sermons will occur online, alongside all the Christmas shopping. Worldwide this year’s exchange of gifts and presents is expected to be a low key affair. Dinner may look a little different as we share meals over Zoom instead of large family-style gatherings, and indeed, we are still grateful. Our normal traditions will be greatly altered, and yet the day is just as special.
We rejoice at Christmas as we recall the miraculous birth of the baby born in Bethlehem of the Virgin Mary. We retell the story of the incarnation of God – the God the world did not know and who came into the world in the humblest of circumstances. Jesus was born in a barn, wrapped in a blanket, and laid in an animal trough as his bed. His humble start did not begin to reflect the story of his true nature. Gospel singer Mahalia Jackson used to sing a beautiful rendition of the hymn, Sweet Little Jesus Boy:
Sweet little Jesus boy,
They made you be born in a manger.
Sweet little holy child,
We didn’t know who you were -
Didn’t know you’d come to save us, Lord,
To take our sins away.
Our eyes were blind, we could not see -
We didn't know who you were.
The Gospel of John in the Bible offers us a profound explanation of who that sweet little Jesus boy was. He writes, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.” We are told from the outset that Jesus was the Word, Son eternal and present before Creation itself. He draws our attention to who Jesus is. Jesus is the manifestation of God. He was with God and he was God. Even though the notion of Jesus both being God and being with God may sound confusing, our faith confirms our belief. Jesus was sent to deliver a powerful message to God’s people, yet he was a different kind of messenger. He was more than a prophet and he was a bigger force than angels. The Word was God – and yet, people did not understand.
Jesus came into the world to know human suffering and to teach important lessons that would serve humankind forever. Ultimately, Jesus, the light of the world, came to deliver his people from sinful ways and point them toward salvation.
John the Baptist was a messenger from God who came ahead of Christ to announce the coming of the Messiah. John informed the people that one much greater than he was coming and that the one coming behind him would be the savior of the world. John came to “testify to the light” so that all would believe. The baptizer also offered people an opportunity to repent and to be baptized with water so they would be prepared when the Lord arrived.
The people were filled with expectation, and still, they didn’t recognize Jesus when he appeared to them. They did not know the one who had been sent to deliver peace to a fractured world. They could not comprehend the one who preached forgiveness and hope. They would not accept the teachings of the carpenter’s son who talked about love as the most important guiding principle for life.
In these tumultuous times, there are those who are still grappling with the incarnational God who calls us all children of the Holy One. We find ourselves struggling with what it means to be God’s shining light in the world. At this Christmas when we shower our friends and loved ones with presents, let us also ask ourselves what we have gifted to the world especially during this Pandemic. What have we offered those with much less? How have we remembered the poor and the suffering? What is our gift to God who gifted Himself to us?
COVID -19 closed down the gates of schools, colleges and Institutions and made us all go online, shuttered many small businesses and forced major layoffs at many of the larger places of employment. There is a tremendous fear that many will be left homeless in the aftermath of this global pandemic. COVID has left countless widowed and orphaned.
As we wonder how and why God came to earth, let us be reminded of the grace that has been shown to us simply by God’s presence. Our gift to God is our response to the human condition. It is personified in the ways we offer grace to our neighbors, near and far. During Jesus’ physical time on earth, we were shown how to care for those with the greatest need. Jesus did not spend time dining with nobility, despite his divine status. Jesus was never to be crowned an earthly king, which was very confounding to the people of his day. Jesus dined instead with the marginalized and the outcasts. Like a laser beam, Jesus shined a light on injustice and forced his disciples to look inwardly, examining their hearts and minds to find the true meaning of life.
It is God’s hope that we will take time from the mad hustle and bustle of our hectic lives and conscientiously focus on the urgent global issues like the climate change and the care for our common home-the Earth that is devastated so badly and exploited thoroughly. Just like in ancient times, this world is in need of healing. So many of our brothers and sisters across the world are feeling exhausted after a year of fractured relationships, mistrust, frustration and disruption of normal life. God the Emmanuel is with us and His shining light will guide us out of misery and despair.
As we celebrate the birth of Jesus with festivities to whatever extent we deem appropriate, we give thanks for those who gather with us and those whom the Lord received into eternity. Make it a joyous occasion. The God of Creation invites us to recreate the meaning of this wonderful season in which miracles can truly happen. It is possible to live in a world filled with love and peace. We must believe that better days are ahead and we must work together to make that a reality.
Howard Thurman, an African American theologian, educator, and civil rights leader created a stunning poem called The Work of Christmas and it really defines the work before us:
When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flocks,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among others,
To make music in the heart.
May we all celebrate the joy of the Christmas season and give thanks for the continuing presence of God, the Creator. May the light of Jesus whose birth we celebrate bring new life into this world and may it shine brightly forever.
Wishing you the blessings of the New Year 2021.
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