Dear Friends in Christ in the Michigan Conference,
“I bring you greetings from the Holy Land, where I am taping this Advent message.”
That was how this year’s Advent message was supposed to begin. Unfortunately, war has prevented this trip which was to have included dozens of Michigan United Methodists. We are all disappointed. I know many have been waiting for this trip, and its postponement may mean they will not be able to make it. Disappointment. Discouragement. We each know our share of these – a new job not offered, a gift not well-received, a vacation that was less than expected, a grade not achieved, a date turned down.
On a more profound scale, we know deep disappointment and discouragement in and with our world. The war in Israel/Palestine began with a brutal attack on Israeli citizens by Hamas terrorists, where over 1400 people were killed and over 250 were taken hostage. Israel’s response has been one of overwhelming force, where thousands of Palestinians have been killed. The roots of this conflict are deep. Palestinian displacement and experiences of injustice. Centuries-long anti-Semitism, including pogroms and the Holocaust. Will Jerusalem ever be a city of peace?
Another Advent season finds Ukraine still engulfed by war. Crucial elections in Liberia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo have citizens of those nations watching and wondering about the future. In our church, we are still processing disaffiliations. Our society remains deeply polarized. Will we ever be able to speak meaningfully about the common good in the United States again?
Might the sounds of the Christmas season ring a little hollow in the midst of such profound disappointment and such deep discouragement? Might the lights of the Christmas season shine less brightly? Such questions arise with this Advent season.
And the season of Advent offers a response. In Advent, we prepare again to celebrate Jesus’ birth at Christmas. Remembering Jesus arrived in the world in an unlikely place, a manger, not a palace, born to unlikely parents, regular folks, not powerful rulers, we use the weeks before Christmas to listen more intently to how Jesus wants to touch our lives anew. We sing at Christmas, “Be born in us today.”
And that’s the most important point. We trust that Jesus can be born in us today, that he is a living presence. At Advent, we pay deep attention to the reality that the Jesus who walked this land now engulfed by war is a Jesus who wants to walk with us in our lives. Jesus touches us still. The light that shone at Christmas in Jesus wants to shine more brightly in our lives and through us into the world. Jesus is present when the light of God’s love shines in the darkness and is not overcome. “Light and life to all he brings, risen with healing in his wings,” as the song says. And in that light, there is hope even when we know disappointment and discouragement. God is not finished with us yet, but rather, Jesus arrives again and again to embrace us in love and encourage us as we seek to live more lovingly, more justly, and more kindly.
Jesus wants God’s love to be born in us, to shine in us and through us. One of the ways we share the light of God’s love is through our support of projects that bring light and life.
I am delighted to direct this year’s Advent offering toward two Michigan Conference-initiated ministries that are making a difference in our state and in Liberia. Every year, it seems the weather brings disaster of one kind or another. The Michigan Conference established After The Storm as a separate non-profit corporation to provide a caring response when disasters strike. Our support through this offering allows them to be ready when needed. You have been responding generously to the Readers to Leaders campaign to support summer educational and empowerment programs for children and youth here in Michigan, along with helping provide educational scholarships for students in Liberia. This offering will help us meet our two-year goal for these programs.
In Advent, we affirm that Jesus comes again and again into our lives. In the dark streets shines an everlasting light. At Christmas, we celebrate a generous God whose love makes all the difference in our lives, whose love is hope. We, in turn, have the opportunity through this offering to generously share God’s goodness with others, to offer a little more light to the world, and to offer hope. Thank you for considering a gift to these important ministries.
Blessed Advent. Merry Christmas.
David Alan Bard
Michigan Area Bishop
View Bishop Bard’s video message here: An everlasting light. (mailchi.mp)