A Christmas message from the bishop
By David Edwards
As I predicted in a previous article, I have really missed Sears this year. The annual rush to buy gifts has meant that I have had to go from store to store. It has required planning and almost military precision. Time has been eaten up as never before. What is a person supposed to do?
This is what can best be described as a First World Problem. For many people on our planet and even in our province, the issue is not what gifts to buy, but rather how to survive well from one day to the next. Many are excluded from the joy of this season by their circumstances.
Yet this is a season of hope. How does that work?
At this time of year we are reminded of what the Church calls the Incarnation. God in the form of the Son, Jesus, chose to leave his glory and come as a human being into his creation in order to show us a better way, centred on his essential nature, love.
What is the better way? It is to be alongside rather than distant? Throughout the Bible, God is seen as being in relationship with people, but in Jesus he fully experiences what it is to be as we are, yet without sin.
Now here is the difficult part for us to understand, because God is not bound by space and time. The experience of the Son emptying himself to become as one of us always informs God and has always informed God as to who we are. His love comes from knowledge and experience of the human state.
How are we to respond to this love? By following the way of Christ. How do we do that? By incarnating the love of God for the whole of his creation. How?
One way is to answer non-First World questions this Christmas. This can be done through donating to PWRDF on a consistent basis. Perhaps buying an animal through their or other Christmas catalogues. Supporting a food bank. Inviting a stranger to Christmas dinner. The list of possibilities goes on.
What we are called to do throughout the year is to incarnate the love of God in Christ. To bless as we have been blessed in order that all the families of the earth might be blessed and know God’s love in Jesus.
David Edwards is bishop of the Anglican Diocese of Fredericton.
‘Let go of the fantasy of the perfect Christmas’ – Bishop Bill Hockin
By Gisele McKnight
The third and final Advent Talk in the popular series was held Dec. 11 at the Crowne Plaza in Fredericton. Retired bishop Bill Hockin recapped the previous two weeks with his and Dr. Barry Craig’s presentations.
The final installment was entitled Perfect People Need Not Apply.
A glossy magazine arrived at the Hockin household a few weeks ago advertising “the holiday home.”
“It was the picture of the perfect Christmas,” he said. “I think there are a lot of us who are afflicted with an image of the perfect Christmas, of what Christmas ought to be like, and we spend a lot of money pretending.”
The image of the perfect Christmas has a family all together, with everyone happy and healthy. They all go to church on Christmas Eve, and on the way home it starts to snow.
“There it is — this fantasy of the perfect Christmas, but for most of us, it doesn’t happen,” he said. “It’s a mixed grill of hope and disappointment.”
The title of the talk, he said, means that if we’re going to get anything out of this talk, and out of Christmas, we have to let go of the fantasy and reset our expectations.
Bishop Bill recounted some of his own Christmases, which often depended on work, who was sick, who had died and whether the children were at home.
“I remember a family Christmas dinner away from home with extended family,” he said. “The whole success of that Christmas depended on a certain Uncle Fred and whether he was sober that day or not.”
For Bill as a priest, he always had a refuge on Christmas — his church.
“It was sort of mandatory, but I had this place to go and I had a responsibility to make something good out of Christmas for a lot of other people,” he said.
In that responsibility and that place, he found blessing. In spite of what was happening in life and in the world, the blessing was in the story of the manger — this miracle of Bethlehem.
WHERE TO FIND CHRISTMAS JOY
Luke’s gospel gives us a lengthy list of imperfect people — all flawed in some way.
He began with Elizabeth and Zechariah — ‘well-stricken in years’ the scripture says, yet God used them to produce John the Baptist.
“John’s father, Zechariah, the Jewish priest, was so shaken by the prospect of changing diapers in his 60s that he lost his voice for nine months!” he said.
Mary and Joseph were from Nazareth, a place with a poor reputation. And when they arrived in Bethlehem, there was no room for them to stay.
“Isn’t it interesting how God manages all this. The rich and famous and perfect people were not here,” he said. “They got their room at the Holiday Inn, they travelled by carriage, not by donkey.”
And then there were the shepherds, looked on with such contempt that they were not permitted into the temple because they couldn’t keep the Sabbath.
“Yet it was to these flawed people that the light comes. They got it when so many others did not.
“What this tells me is that the people who really get Christmas are those of us who can admit to being imperfect, flawed, broken.
The second place to find Christmas joy is in the cracks of our lives. God uses broken things — broken clouds for rain, broken soil for growth, broken seed for flour, broken bread to feed the hungry, a broken heart to open up to something new.
The Beatitudes mention the broken — the poor in spirit, the meek, those that mourn, he said.
Thirdly, generosity is a source of Christmas joy. There is plenty of evidence that links acts of kindness with a person’s well-being, he said.
St. Basil, in the fourth century, said ‘the bread that is spoiling in your cupboard belongs to the hungry.’
Christmas gives us many opportunities to give, whether it’s World Vision, a local food bank, a call to a friend who needs a visit, he said.
Bishop Bill told the story of a family friend, a physician, who recounted a wonderful story of generosity and kindness, saying it’s never too late to be kind.
The doctor had a patient in palliative care who told him she didn’t have many visitors. So he arranged to have a musical family come and perform for her. This family with seven children, aged four to 16, had formed a little gospel choir and they came to her bedside for a little concert.
The patient was so appreciative and asked them to come back again. Other patients heard the singing and asked for their own performances. The family truly blessed many with their singing.
Then the doctor’s patient asked to speak to the oldest child, the 16-year-old girl, whom she noticed had very crooked teeth. Was she getting braces, she asked the girl. The family couldn’t afford it, she replied.
Shortly afterwards, the patient called her lawyer and made a change to her will. A few months later, the family received money to pay the entire bill for dental work for their daughter. That girl is now 19 and a nursing student at the University of New Brunswick.
“At every level of that story there was kindness — kindness that changed lives,” he said. “It’s never too late to be kind. This is a true story. It really happened.”
In closing, Bishop Bill told those gathered that the celebration of Christmas is for everyone, not just the perfect people in perfect holiday photos. If we are honest, we easily identify with the lyrics of the hymn Amazing Grace — ‘that saved a wretch like me.’
“Those who pretend, those of us who spend so much energy holding onto this fantasy of everything being perfect just may miss out on the real thing,” he said. “They may miss out on this message, this deep peace and joy that only God can give.”