December 22, 2014

Dear Friends and Family of the Diocese of Eau Claire,

Advent is now giving way to Christmas. Churches throughout the Diocese are getting decorated. Christmas trees that were only green are receiving lights and ornaments. Creches are on display. Most of the world knows about Christmas as the season for the birth of Jesus, but non-Christians move on to other things. In America a large percentage of our fellow citizens acknowledge the birth of Jesus but prefer the Santa story and focus upon what gifts are under the Christmas tree.

There is another side of Christmas, and most devout Christians grasp it. This is the time of Emmanuel; God is with us. He comes to us incarnate or in the flesh. In short, God has become a human being to show us by example how to live. That special person is Jesus; his name is a variant of Joshua meaning savior. While this event occurred over 2000 years ago, we Christians relive the time when Jesus was born.

It helps me to see the birth of Jesus through the eyes of the shepherds. They are people who normally lived outdoors—in some ways like our American cowboys of western lore. The shepherds spent time gazing at the stars. The night Jesus was born something unexpected happened. According to the second chapter of Luke’s Gospel, an angel appeared and told the shepherds to go to Bethlehem. “To you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.”

Luke 2 is dominated by the concept of glory. The angel has glory; then the heavenly hosts have it. The shepherds are surrounded by it to the point that they are speechless. Their response to the glory is to run to Bethlehem and find the child. In attending worship in the Christmas season think about how many times you hear about glory. It fills the scriptures, the liturgy, and especially the Christmas hymns. For me, this is the core value of Christmas. God invites us into a world of glory. What exactly is it? In theological terms glory is a quality that emanates from God. As human beings we are both created (like the animals) and divine. God’s glory is received by our divine nature, and we too reflect it. Glory is a natural part of our being, for we are made in the image of God. We especially reflect glory when we are in sync with God. Sin is an obstacle that restricts our receiving of glory. When sin is confessed and we know we are forgiven, something special is renewed within us. Sometimes we give off an aura from our heads. You could say we are enlightened, and this is a wonderful place to be. This is sometimes called a state of grace.

The evangelists, Luke and John, want us to understand that the life of glory is most profound by knowing Jesus. This is why the shepherds ran to Bethlehem. As your bishop I plead with you. This concept of glory is not imagined. It is as real today as it was 2000 years ago. I have experienced this, and I believe you have too. I hope that in recognizing glory and understanding its power, you can find the true meaning of Christmas. God is with us and wants to remain with us always. The question is, can we accept and incorporate into our humanity such a beautiful gift? If you want a joyful and meaningful life let the teachings and example of Jesus guide you further and further into a life of glory. With my love and best wishes, I am,

Your brother in Christ,