DIOCESE of the EASTERN UNITED STATES
ANGLICAN CHURCH IN AMERICA
DIOCESE OF THE EASTERN UNITED STATES
Bishop William Bower's Christmastide Letter
25 December 2022
Peace be with you.
We have now reached the celebration of one of two of the most powerful and important events in human history. For as Christians, we celebrate the 2022nd (or there abouts) anniversary of the incarnation of our Lord, Jesus the Christ. We commonly call this feast Christmas, a sort of combination of the words Christ and Mass as it is at Christmas that we celebrate the nativity of our Lord.
According to our ancient tradition, it is on the first Mass of Christmas that we hear the Last Gospel proclaimed as the primary Gospel lesson for the feast. It is none other than the Prologue to the Gospel of St. John and it begins much like the creation account in Genesis.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
No first-century Jew would have missed the importance of those words as they resound with the same quality as the start of the Torah. Here St. John is starting with a new beginning, a fresh start, to the sinful and fallen. Those timeless words also insert a new reality, as St. John proclaims that the Word of God, Jesus, was not only in the beginning with God, He was and is God.
And we confess this same understanding in our Creed whenever we say, “the only begotten Son of God, begotten of His Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father; by whom all things were made”. Both the Creed and the Prologue of St. John’s Gospel are in complete harmony here. But what is not in harmony with either, is the secular notion of Christmas.
Whenever your non-religious or casual Christian friends and relatives think of Christmas, what is it that they imagine it is all about? Perhaps the holiday shows on television or the increased advertisements give us some insight. For these people it is about giving and receiving presents, about fancy and fattening foods, and sometimes about family and friends gathering. Some will go into the idea that Christmas is a sort of magical season filled with hope and joy. Certainly, these are not bad things, but Christmas is about so much more….
“And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.”
This is the story of God becoming a human being, in the form of a baby, which was born to die for the sin of humanity. He is born in darkness and cold to enter into the darkness and cold of the difficult moments of our life. He is laid in a manger, a place where animals would eat, to be the king born in humility. Why didn’t Jesus come to us in splendor and power? Certainly, that would more completely encapsulate the secular Christmas message of material excesses.
The Anglican author, C. S. Lewis explains it this way, “God entered into our human condition quietly, as a baby born in obscurity…because He had to slip covertly behind enemy lines.”
Consider the world of those first-century Jews. Their society and faith were under attack. There was the occupation by the Romans, the splintering into several factions of the Jewish religion, there was extreme classism and poverty. All of these things we have in our society today. The Messiah is born in the same city and of the same lineage as King David to confront an enemy – the ultimate enemy which is sin, death, and the devil.
The Christ Child comes into the world in relative obscurity compared to how earthly kings would arrive. Only the shepherds, the immediate family, and others aware of the prophesy would be able to recognize the importance of what happened that cold night so long ago. That God became a man, to restore mankind to God.
As Archbishop Fulton Sheen correctly wrote, “that the stable is now the tabernacle; the manger is now the ciborium; the straw is now the altar flowers; the swaddling bands are now the white species of bread—and that the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ is living among us in that tabernacle just as really and truly as in the crib.”
Christmas is a time whenever we remember that God loves us so much that He came to us in the flesh and lived among us. If we individually were the only sinners that needed redemption, Christ would still come – He loves us that much.
One last thought… Many of us enjoy the lights of Christmas. Whether it be candlelight or the modern lights on our Christmas trees. I challenge you this Christmastide to each time whenever you behold these lights to reflect on this passage, “And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.”
Comprehend the light of Christ this Christmastide and rejoice that God loves you so much as to be found in the form of a man for our salvation, and for the life of the world. Embrace the love of God, and then share it with everyone you meet – and especially to the unlovable. To do so is to receive the greatest gift of Christmas.
Blessings and peace be with you and your families in the holy season of Christmas. May you each find joy in the love of Him who came to us in great humility.
The Right Reverend William Bower, SSC
Bishop Ordinary of the Diocese of the Eastern United States (DEUS)
Bishop, Vicar General - US Military Chaplain
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