By John Lomperis (@JohnLomperis)
As we are spending time with family and loved ones for the break celebrating of the birth of the Christ child, it is worth passing on some good reminders from some of our United Methodist bishops about the true reason for the season.
While I do not intend to offer any sort of broad endorsement of everything these bishops say, it is certainly fitting and proper for someone in my role to recognize and pass on thoughtful, helpful words offered by our episcopal leaders as they exercise their teaching office.
In a YouTube video, Bishop Gary Mueller (Arkansas Annual Conference) reminded those dealing with “very painful realities” in their personal lives of the God of the universe loving us “in the most personal way possible,” very humbly “becoming one of us and living as one of us, and sharing with us love that gives us everything that we need, but we can never get on our own.” The Incarnation in the midst of our painful, fallen world “changes everything, about everything, forever.”
Bishop Peggy Johnson (Eastern Pennsylvania and Peninsula-Delaware Annual Conferences) pointed out that Christmas is centrally a celebration of the Incarnation (see page 3)— of the fact that “the Word became flesh and lived among us” (John 1:14a), of that divine love that “was so great that God was willing to give his Son Jesus to live and to die for us so that we might be able to have everlasting life.” Thus, while red and green, and sometimes white and gold, are colors typically used in Advent and Christmas decorations, the true “color of Christmas” is “[m]ulti-colored flesh tones,” reflecting the full range of skin color of all those created in the image of a God Who created us in His image and Himself became incarnate as an enfleshed human being.
Bishop Robert Hayes, of Oklahoma, urged: “Engulfed in all the trappings of the season, in your haste to give ‘things,’ do not forget that Christmas is about God making Love known in the form of a child, not about something you trade or buy for yourself or someone else.” Christmas is “a wonderful chance to open your heart again to the Savior who came that first Christmas to save us from ourselves.”
Bishop Mike Lowry (Central Texas) reminded us of our obligation to approach Christ with not just love, but also humble, submissive adoration. He recounted how he hangs a picture of St. Nicholas (a real historical figure) by his office door to remind himself to follow the example of that fourth-century bishop, and the first-century wise men, by “kneel[ing] before the Lord,” “render[ing] the ultimate in obedience and obeisance” to Him, and” ris[ing] in service to Christ living the great commandment… and the great commission….”
Bishop Mike Coyner of Indiana noted that from its earliest days through the present, Christian churches have been plagued by heresies. He singles out two modern-day heresies in particular, the “elitist spiritual attitude” of essentially “claim[ing] [one’s] own spiritual wisdom over and against the conventional spiritual wisdom of any organized religion,” and “claim[s] to ‘love Jesus but not the Church.’” The Indiana bishop argues that these are but modern forms of the ancient Gnostic and Docetic heresies, respectively. Bishop Coyner confesses that the prevalence of these modern heresies is largely the fault of the Church, as it has “not adequately taught an orthodox theology about Christ and the Church.” But in response to the dangers of “a variety of heresies and false understandings of the Christian faith,” “Christmas reminds us of the birth of Jesus is a dirty animal stall because ‘God so loved the world that he gave his only Son’ for this world with all its evils,” and “invites us to discover the beauty of the Body of Christ once again.”
I hope that you and yours had a merry Christmas.