General Secretary’s Christmas Message 2023: A Call for Embracing an Inward Jubilee

by Cheon Young Cheol

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

Warmest greetings from the Council for Mission!

Advent is a season filled with the spirit of joy and the warmth of gatherings leading up to Christmas. It is the time that we commemorate the birth of our Saviour, Jesus Christ, and celebrate together in unity with families, relatives, and communities.

“Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David, a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.” It is the message that the Angel of the Lord proclaimed to the shepherds in Luke 2:10-11.

However, today, the same land of the town of David is filled with pain, suffering and chaos. The ongoing Hamas-Israeli conflict has killed more than 5,500 children in Gaza, reminding us of the decree of Herod to kill all the children under two years in Bethlehem. According to the UN report, every day, 180 women in Gaza are giving birth without water, painkillers, anaesthesia for Caesarean sections, electricity for incubators or medical supplies. It reminds us of the deplorable condition that Mother Mary had to go through to give birth to Jesus on a cold winter night with no shelter.

As we navigate the complexities of the reality in Gaza and across the world at this time of Christmas, one cannot ignore the striking parallels between the time of Jesus’ birth and the ongoing conflict.

The Patriarchs and Heads of the Churches in Jerusalem called upon the congregations to focus on the spiritual meaning of Christmas instead of extravagant celebrations with expensive decorations.

What does it mean to focus on the spiritual meaning of Christmas in today’s context? How can we celebrate the Christmas more solemnly? How can we make this Christmas an “Inward Jubilee” instead of an outward expression of celebration?

This reminds me of what Athanasius of Alexandria said about the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. For him, the Lord did not come to make a display and dazzle the beholders. He came to heal and put himself at the disposal of those who needed him.

Christmas as an “Inward Jubilee”:

  • It is not a mere absence of celebration. Rather, it is an intentional pause—a moment of collective reflection on the profound challenges faced by our brothers and sisters in Palestine.
  • It is not a call to dampen our spirits. Rather, it is a deliberate choice to redirect our focus towards a deeper understanding of the world around us. It is an invitation to embrace a form of celebration that is rooted in empathy, compassion, and a commitment to addressing the plight of the mothers and children in Palestine.
  • It is not a call for total silence during the season. Rather, it is an acknowledgement that our celebrations can be meaningful acts of solidarity and compassion.

The hymn that we often sing during the season of Christmas, “Silent Night” is not a mere Christmas lullaby. It goes over 200 years back into history to the time of the Great European War, with endless suffering and countless deaths during that time.

The hymn was a six-stanza poem written in German by Father Josephus Mohr in 1816 and composed by Franz Xaver Gruber in 1818 amidst a dark time for Europe, especially in Austria, where Father Mohr came from. Amidst the great suffering and hardship, the “Silent Night” was, indeed, an expression of the deepest longing for lasting peace and comfort resonating in their minds with the words, “Sleep in heavenly peace, sleep in heavenly peace.”

This year, as we prepare to celebrate the Christmas season, let our celebrations be filled with a spiritual solemnity that reflects the realities of our world. Let us try to remember the suffering community in Palestine and across the world.

Let us celebrate this Christmas as an inward Jubilee.

Wish you all a meaningful Christmas.

Rev. Dr Jooseop Keum
General Secretary, Council for World Mission

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