Today I received the below communication (originally dated Dec. 28 from Africa) from Bishop Unda Yemba Gabriel, resident bishop of the East Congo Episcopal Area. To remind you, Bishop Unda preached at our 2014 Memphis and Tennessee Annual Conferences in June 2014. He thanked our Nashville Episcopal Area for raising money in 2013 to construct an Episcopal office and residence in the Congo, which I helped dedicate during my August 2014 trip to Africa. If you wish to offer any financial assistance for the current crisis he describes below, please send to your conference treasurer for “Bishop Unda SOS.” ~ Bishop Bill McAlilly
To brothers and sisters in Christ:
Greetings in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
As I write these few lines, my heart is too heavy because of the situation going on in Beni territory, northeast of the Democratic Republic of Congo, which is part of my Episcopal Area. The efforts of our army (are) insufficient to protect people.
People there are killed every day in the neighboring villages and we run the risk of losing all our believers. Two weeks ago, a group of Uganda rebels killed people in the villages (of) Kamango, Oicha and Mbawu. A Methodist family (a father, his wife and their two children) were killed with machetes.
Many people are fleeing to Beni. Our local congregations there are crowded with displaced people who flee from villages for their lives. We need your prayers. But, as you know, food and basic needs must be met. Our evangelization should reach people in need.
I am sending this SOS message to all those who may want to help.
May God be with us all during Christmas, but let’s keep in mind that our brothers and sisters are dying somewhere because of selfish interests.
Bishop Unda Yemba Gabriel
Resident Bishop, East Congo Episcopal Area
…it’s on my mind because this is Advent and we are on a journey to Bethlehem, a journey we take annually as a Church. There was a time when the Church began the season with a period of penitence and fasting. Perhaps these are practices that would serve us well in this current environment.
Have you ever wondered why purple is the liturgical color of Advent? It is to create a visual connection between Advent and Lent, the two periods of preparation for Jesus’ birth and death. For early Christians, it was essential to understand the link between the cradle and the cross—that Jesus came as the “Word made flesh.”
There will be great joy among us as we celebrate in our congregations in the coming days. We will celebrate the coming of Christ’s birth. Will we also hold before us the tension held within the reality that his life led to his crucifixion, resurrection and the promise of new life for all of us?
Kate Lasso, a member of the Eighth Day Faith Community suggests that during Advent we celebrate God’s invitation to reconciliation. To be reconciled to God is to be actively living what Jesus taught: Love God and love neighbor. Jesus’ invitation is also a call to discipleship.
Lasso continues: “The first ones to hear the news, and thus mark the advent of an age of reconciliation with God, were poor shepherds, some of the lowest ranking members of Jewish society. Their work made it impossible for them to observe the Jewish ceremonial laws and temple rituals, so they were considered religiously unclean and unacceptable. They weren’t considered trustworthy and were not allowed to give testimony in a Jewish court of law. They were social outcasts, yet they are at the heart of the joyous message—that Christ came for lowly shepherds, for all the forgotten people of the earth, for all of us.”
To be engaged in discipleship is to choose downward mobility. It is to take up one’s cross and follow daily our Leader. It is to be so in love with God that love for neighbor is the natural response. As you make preparations, make room. Make room in your heart, in your family, in your work, and in your re-creation. When you do, you will be ready for Christmas in the deepest places of your soul and you will be one with Christ and one with each other.
> The TN Conference Children & Families Ministry is publishing an excellent daily Advent devotional via email, CLICK HERE to subscribe – I recommend it!
It was the Christmas Pageant at Gravesend, New Hampshire.
The Episcopal church was packed with worshipers, well wishers and relatives of the cast. Attendance was up, thanks to a positive preview in the local newspaper. The drama critic had reported, the quintessential Christmas tale, the luster of which has been dulled by its annual repetition, has been given new sparkle. One reason for the excitement was the presence of a small boy named Owen Meany. For many years his diminutive size had made him a natural for the role of the Announcing Angel.
The pastor’s wife would hoist him on a rope, where he could swing out of the stage and announce the good news. This year, a much larger boy named Harold Crosby has been assigned the angelic role, and Owen, who was the smallest young boy anybody had ever seen, had assumed the role of Baby Jesus.
The moment came when it was time for Harold the Angel to descend from the darkness. “Be not afraid!,” he said in a quaking voice. Then he repeated it again. “Be not afraid!” When he said those words a third time, it was obvious he had forgotten the rest of his lines. He spun around and faced the back of the stage, and said, “Be not afraid,” in an indistinct mumble.
Suddenly another voice spoke up. It came from below, in the hay. The child in the manger knew the forgotten lines, and in a cracked falsetto, his voice rang out:
“FOR BEHOLD, I BRING YOU GOOD NEW OF A GREAT JOY WHICH WILL COME TO ALL THE PEOPLE!”
Prompted by the Christ Child, the angel repeated the announcement. And when the spot light fell on the crèche, the congregation was also prepared to adore him—whatever special Christ this was who not only knew his role but also knew all the other, vital parts of the story. (A PRAYER FOR OWEN MEANY by John Irving)
This Christmas I invite you to be just such angels announcing the Good News of Jesus Christ! The first angels, prompted by the birth of Jesus, announce, that something decisive has happened. God has broken through the darkness!
As Tom Ehrich has so aptly written:
Tonight, some will gather with family in the glow of candles and some will sit alone in the flicker of a television set.
Tonight, some will worship God in cheerful places and some will taste the acid of their alienation from church or God.
Tonight, some children will go to bed excited and some will listen to gunfire and shouting outside their bedrooms.
Tonight, some will turn off the lights of home in anticipation of a merry Christmas and some will stand guard far from home in anticipation of warfare’s unceasing mayhem.
What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
- Today I am offering prayers for the families of Newtown, Connecticut who are struggling to piece their lives back together after innocent children laid down their lives.
- Today I am offering prayers for the families across the Nashville Area who are facing Christmas this year for the first time without loved ones.
- Today I am offering prayers for the men and women of the armed forces who are the 1% of our population whose lives have been forever altered by wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, whose scars are unseen but carry horrific images with them every day.
- Today I am offering prayers for Ivy Bluff United Methodist Church whose church building was destroyed by fire this fall.
- Today I am offering prayers for the victims of Hurricane Sandy and the many, many families and congregations across the Northeast who are displaced and discouraged, unclear about a way forward.
As difficult as it is to sometimes hear, it is necessary that we know all that is going on.
God surely knows. And knowing the world as it is, God chose to come. Into our human experience, God came in the person of Jesus…
To those exiled in loneliness,
Jesus was light shining in the darkness. A Messiah sent to lead God’s people out of bondage and home across a fearsome desert, as Luke put it. A shepherd for lost sheep, as Matthew put it.
Apart from the darkness, the birth of Jesus makes no sense. All of us, in one way or another long to escape the darkness…to drive away the fear, the loneliness, the anxiety that creeps into our psyche uninvited.
The way we do Christmas is madness if we fail to acknowledge the darkness we are trying to overcome. There are no good tidings unless we can acknowledge the darkness and ourselves as people who walk in darkness. Jesus was light in the darkness, not a cheerleader for the pious. And no matter how dark the world may become, the light, which Jesus brings, will not vanquish.
Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth, peace among those whom he favors.
Bill and Lynn McAlilly