December 25th, 2000
O come thou Wisdom from on highâ¦
All is neither calm nor bright as we once again celebrate the Savior's birth. Instead, we find ourselves in a bleak midwinter of fear and rage, rocks and bullets, which have turned the land of Jesus' birth into a war zone. Yet the Middle East is only one place among many in which neighbor is pitted against neighbor, and religious differences are exploited in the service of hatred. Well we might ask: how is it that faiths that profess mercy and compassion and God's love for all can be co-opted by political and ethnic ideologies and made into ammunition with which to maim and destroy one another?
On the home front, we are faced with a government in which partisan vitriol and self-interest have so immobilized the political process that many despair of recovering any sense of the common good.
As well, even within the Christian community the spirit of division has been hard at work seeking to obscure and undermine the unity into which we are born through baptism. Unity does not ignore differences, but rather supplies the context in which they can be openly and honestly explored with mutual affection and trust under the guidance of the Spirit of truth. In this way the community of faith is conformed to the mind of Christ and participates in Christ's mission "to restore all people to unity with God and each other." A church that cannot live the costly mystery of unity in its own life cannot speak a life-giving word to a divided world.
What does it say to us when, in God's name and with God's presumed blessing, we murder and defame one another with rocks and guns and the words of our lips? It says we need a savior, one who can reconcile us to God and one another. We need a savior who - through his own faithfulness, even to death on a cross - is able to break down all walls of division so we are able to perceive that in Christ we are one new humanity.
As we hear again the story of Jesus' birth, and sing of that silent night when all was calm and bright, may we do so with undefended and penitent hearts that can take us beyond the externals of the season into the heart of God. There the bleak midwinter of our suspicions and mistrust are healed and transformed as the Word Incarnate finds a home in us and then, through the Spirit, draws us into his ongoing work of reconciliation for the sake of the world.
May Christ indeed make his home in us this holy season that we may know the truth - the truth of his transforming and reconciling love - the truth that makes us free.
The Most Reverend Frank T. Griswold
XXV Presiding Bishop and Primate
The Episcopal Church, USA