“Do not be afraid. I bring you good news and that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord….” (Luke 2: 10, 11).
Dear sisters and brothers, in the name and on behalf of the entire family of the Council for World Mission, I greet you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Immanuel, “God with us”.
2020 may be described as a year of disruption, dislocation and, for many, despair. We believe, however, that this description does not represent the full story. 2020 has also been a year of imagination, creativity, adaptability and endurance. The brunt of the coronavirus has hit the world and has taken us to places we did not plan for. Notwithstanding, it has also been a year of immense heart-warming expression of generosity of spirit, of tenacity and of resilient hope.
Today we live with the pain of the loss of our dearly beloved family and friends who had to take that journey alone, without our presence, our touch and the performance of last rites according to our various faith and cultural traditions. And yet we rejoice at the quality care that many received from frontline caregivers, who spared no effort and at great risk of exposure themselves, in the service of those who contracted the virus and those who succumbed to its death-dealing vice. There has been an abundance of grace in the midst of pain.
We reflect, with a certain degree of consternation, how fearful and grief-stricken we all became when we received the news that we, or our family members and friends, had contracted the virus. It was as though we received our death sentence. But we have weathered the storm, we have held firmly to our faith and we remain hopeful for better days ahead. Not only has close to 50 million of the 71 million confirmed cases been recovered, but we have stood together in a display of care and compassion towards one another. In so many ways, we have demonstrated that we are a family, bound together by our common humanity and our common quest for life in fullness.
In these disruptive and disturbing times, we have experienced, in extraordinary ways, the spirituality of faith, of hope and of love, the most precious and priceless gift that we could ever expect or even imagine. Despite our fragilities and vulnerabilities, we have been strengthened and emboldened by our faith in God and in each other; we have been gifted with hope, an instrument of perseverance and expectation; and the power of love has come to us as an offering of support and solidarity where and when it mattered most. Indeed, we have been to each other, a spiritual fountain of life-giving inspiration, energy and companionship in these difficult times.
As we celebrate Christmas, the season of peace and goodwill, may our spirits be rekindled, refreshed and renewed with the message of God’s angels: “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people”. Surrounded by the cloud of Covid-19 and its continued threat and uncertainties, coupled with all the other social vices that tarnish relationships and destroy life – racial tension, political upheaval, economic unrest, among others – we need to hear anew this message of good news, a glimmer of light and a ray of hope.
This then is my message to you this Christmas – the good news is that God is with us in our mixed-up ways, our misfortunes and our misgivings. We need not be afraid. Confusion and complexities reigned supreme around the birth of Jesus. In the midst of all this upheaval Joseph, the Shepherds, the Magi and so many others, came face to face with God’s angel, with a reassuring message and a word of encouragement – “Do not be afraid…. A Saviour has been born to you….” At that point everything came together and the words of Isaiah rang out loud and clear – “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means God with us” (Isaiah 7: 14, Matthew 1: 23). There was need for no clearer message then; and I offer it to us today, that we too may be reassured and encouraged.
Immanuel, “God with us”, is God’s reassurance that we are surrounded, undergirded, overshadowed and enfolded in the stupendous love and abundant grace of God. When the road is rough and the going gets tough, may this good news keep us going and may we feel securely anchored and protected in God’s life-giving presence.
Merry Christmas and a very happy New Year!
Collin I. Cowan