Greetings of Peace and Joy in the name of Jesus of Nazareth from the Council for World Mission. It is my prayer that this Christmas season will fill you and your families with the hope of life even in the midst of pandemic. Advent is a season of joy and jubilance. Christmas is a festival of hope, joy, and peace that we celebrate together.
How are you in this Christmas? Unfortunately, this year also, like last year, most of us cannot hold celebrations with families, friends, and communities together because the Covid-19 global pandemic continues to impact our lives even after two years. As a result, we are confronted with worry, stress, anxiety, and other emotional challenges caused by the ongoing uncertainties and instabilities.
The number of infections continue to rise in many countries. The emergence of the new and more infectious Covid variants causing increased fear and anxiety among the people. The impact of prolonged lockdowns, social distancing and quarantine measures, growing financial insecurities, and lack of access to medical and social services are creating an increased emotional and psychological illness in the millions of people globally.
Specific vulnerable populations like migrant workers, homeless, elderly as well as those who already have mental health conditions, are even more affected. Unfortunately, mental illness is often associated with failure, blame, shame, and stigma, and as such, affected persons rarely get the help they need.
It is in this context of challenges, we prepare to celebrate Christmas this year. Christmas is a celebration of God’s manifestation in this world of darkness, suffering, and death to bring light, healing, and life. Christmas reminds us that Christ came into this world not only to set us free from spiritual bondage but from every form of bondage, including mental and emotional.
Christmas reminds us that Christ came into this world to live among us (John1:14), giving us the assurance of “God with Us” (Matthew 2:23) even in the midst of the ongoing pandemic and all the chaos that it has created. Our challenge this Christmas is to remember and remind others that God revealed Godself in human form and came to us, to meet us at the point of our struggles and our search for meaning in life. Therefore, Christmas is a celebration of “Fellowship with God.”
In the world of pandemic, where we are distanced from one another, living in isolation, separated from friends, families, relatives, and co-workers, Christmas gives us assurance that the Immanuel God came down to live with us—live in fellowship with us—so that we are not alone, not isolated, and not distanced, but in fellowship with God who is “with us” always.
Therefore, “God with us” is a message of HOPE.
Allan Boesak says that hope teaches us the language of life in which we articulate our deepest longings for a life of human flourishing that can lift us out of the depths of despair and empowering us to find the liberating and hope-giving God. Hope is both fragile and resilient. It is fragile when it is rooted in our vulnerabilities, but it is resilient when rooted in God’s promises. Isaiah 7:14 reminds us of the promise that “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” Immanuel means “God with us.”
The promise of this Christmas is that God with us, giving us strength in the place of weakness, fellowship in the place of isolation, courage in the place of fear, and life in the place of death. God is always present and reachable to us as Immanuel. Let us spread this message of hope this Christmas because hope is more contagious than covid.
Second, “God with us” is a message of JOY
In this world of pandemic, joy has disappeared from the lives of many as they struggle to cope with the enormous stress and anxiety. So the question is, how can we rejoice in the midst of pain and struggle? How can we rejoice when our loved ones have departed us? How can we rejoice when our lives are filled with darkness, chaos, and uncertainties? Indeed, it is not easy to put up a smile on our face in the midst of struggle. But the promise of Christmas that “God with us” must be a reason for us to be joyful despite the challenges.
The message of Angels to shepherds in Luke 2:10 says, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.” This message of great joy came not for the rich and privileged but for poor shepherds who were waiting for their redemption from social, political, economic, and religious oppressions. Let us spread the joy of Gospel this Christmas because everyone deserves to be joyful. Do not be afraid to smile!
As I conclude, my dear sisters and brothers, I would like to call upon each one of you to continue to uphold hope and share joy. We know that hope and joy are stronger than despair and sorrow. May this season of Christmas be a time of realizing it is never too late to hope for. May the Immanuel God be with you always.
Rev. Dr Jooseop Keum
Council for World Mission