Greetings to the Episcopal Diocese of East Tennessee. As your bishop, it is good to be able to share a Christmas word with you.
The late writer Madeleine L’Engle wrote a poem several years ago reflecting on Christmas. It is entitled, The Risk of Birth, Christmas, 1973. I would like to share it with you:
This is no time for a child to be born,
With the earth betrayed by war & hate
And a comet slashing the sky to warn
That time runs out & the sun burns late.
That was no time for a child to be born,
In a land in the crushing grip of Rome;
Honour & truth were trampled by scorn
Yet here did the Saviour make his home.
When is the time for love to be born?
The inn is full on the planet earth,
And by a comet the sky is torn
Yet Love still takes the risk of birth.
The question that L’Engle asks in the poem, “When is the time for love to be born?’ is particularly poignant for us this coming Christmas season.
This past Easter, we celebrated the Resurrection of Jesus Christ while sheltering in our homes. The Alleluias did not ring out through naves and choir lofts, but rather in living rooms and side porches. Easter had come to us again, even as a global pandemic spread.
Now it is Christmas 2020. While there is much-encouraging news regarding vaccines to combat COVID-19, we here in East Tennessee are experiencing the worst caseloads of COVID in the U.S. Hope and grief, joy and pain, life and death, all surround us as a hard winter begins. This might seem like a ridiculous time for love to be born.
But Divine Love arrives for us, whether we call out for it or not. Thank God that remains true. This is the time for love to born. Love, God’s Divine Love, is always a risky proposition. Jesus entered a world that did not have room for him, and made room for all of us, even those who would reject him.
This Christmas, the Christ child enters a world where a virus rages and political discourse turns increasingly violent and illogical. The risky birth of Love takes place with a fragile economy and the likely prospect that it will take us years to recover from the loss of jobs and the collective loss of public trust we have for each other and our institutions.
So, wherever you are this Christmas, remember whenever Divine Love enters the world, the Holy One is taking a great risk. For Divine Love has come for all to encounter it and learn from it and live by it. Divine Love has come to us this year, not seeking to find us in packed churches at midnight, but rather wherever two or three are gathered, or even the one who lives alone, and abide with us there. Consider this year that your home is now a manger, a shelter in the storm as the Love of the Christ Child takes the risk of birth and abiding in this upside-down world.
Let us welcome the love of the Christ child now. Let us make space for him in the midst of our chaos. Let us remember that the first Christmas did not take place in a packed church, but rather in the open countryside, on the edge of nowhere, where God’s Love chose to show up, even as it seemed time was running out. Time is not running out. Our time is being made new. For now, it is Christmas.