The Right Rev. George Carey
Archbishop of Canterbury and leader of the Worldwide Anglican Communion
In days to come we shall all be asked: "What were you doing when the twin towers of the World Trade Center crashed to the ground?" In my case I was sitting in my study talking to John Peterson, secretary general of the (Anglican) Communion, when (my wife) Eileen walked in and said with a stunned air: "A plane has just crashed into the World Trade Center!"
Even now it is very difficult to get one's mind around the events of that day. What sort of face was it we saw that day? Perhaps there were several, including the hideous face of terrorism using Islam to try to cower a great nation ... We thank God that America was not cowed by such evil. Another face we saw was altogether gentler and heroic, the face of compassion rescuing many from a tragic end. We saw sorrow and grief, but also a determination that evil should not triumph.
As I write, the allied forces are seeking to pry Osama Bin Laden
from his hiding place in Afghanistan. While we may have varying views
about the means it is clear that those guilty must be held to account.
The world is not safe until such perpetrators are brought to justice.
One simply cannot imagine the mentality of men who will take over planes and use them as guided missiles to destroy. But neither can I understand a theology which assumes that such evil deeds grant one access to paradise. It is vital that Muslim leaders continue to address this distortion of Islamic theology as a matter of urgency.
But there is another issue that seems to be to be lost in the present debate. Put simply it is this: Our increasingly secular, consumer driven societies often find it hard to understand people who are quite prepared to die for their beliefs. We are increasingly cocooned in a culture of comfort -- where all danger and risk are kept at arms length.
Most Christians, of course, will have some insight of the notion of the sacrificial life although nothing in our faith leads us to kill others for religious ends. Our faith calls us to live and die for Christ himself, whose ways are justice and peace. And isn't there a challenge here for us all? As I write this letter I have just heard that 18 fellow Anglicans of the Church of Pakistan were murdered by extremists whilst at worship! Our hearts go out to their families as we commend those who have died and their families to the loving arms of Almighty God. It brings home to us all the cost for so many fellow Christians in following Christ today. For those of us living in more secure lands we are challenged to work out for ourselves the cost of following our Lord.
Early last century, Bishop Frank Weston of Zanzibar, who had been preaching the University sermon at Cambridge University challenging students to give up their lives to become missionaries in Africa, was greeted by a student who said: `I couldn't possibly live in Africa!' Weston thundered: `I did not ask you to live there -- I asked you to be prepared to die there!' And dying for Christ was often the reality of those missionaries of that period. Do we not need to consider where the element of sacrifice has gone in modern Christianity? If our discipleship does not take the form of direct suffering for Christ, perhaps we have to work out for ourselves those forms of obedience that are sacrificial and costly that might lead to the benefit of the Church and humanity.
To return to the present situation: While nothing justifies the awful events of Sept. 11, the Western world must wake up to the fact that terrorism feeds on such realities as the gross and obscene inequalities between West and East; the deep despair at the heart of refugees in so many parts of the world, including Palestine; the alarming ignorance and lack of opportunities for those millions of children who have no future to look forward to. I thank God for our Communion, which is present in so many parts of the world where issues of life and death are enacted daily.
Finally, this leads me to children and their future. What kind of world are we preparing for them? How may the joy, peace and love that Christmas brings become a cradle for their growth as leaders of reconciliation and bearers of hope?
I thank God for those young faces that have greeted Eileen and me in every part of our Anglican Communion family. This year, we have been grateful for their enthusiasm and excitement we found in Southern Ohio; for their vitality we encountered in Nigeria; for their courage we experienced in Palestine; and the tenacity of their faith in Bahrain and Qatar. My prayer is that we shall make children a priority in our mission, worship and life.
"O Holy child of Bethlehem
Descend on us we pray
Cast out our sin and enter in
Be born in us today.
We hear the Christmas angels
That great glad tidings tell
O Come to us Abide with us
Our Lord Emmanuel."
General Secretary of the World Council of Churches
We live in a world without mercy, where more and more people feel trapped. Time and money have established their merciless rule. The secret of their power is scarcity. Time is money, they say. Those who have a lot of money never have time, and the poor perhaps have time but no money. Yet they need money in order to live, so they borrow, and then they find themselves trapped in the relentless grip of debt.
We are told that in a world of scarcity, competition is the best way to achieve more. Competition obeys the merciless rule of winning and losing. Because time and money are scarce, the one who moves faster or can offer the better price will win. Those who are too slow or have little to offer are eliminated from the race -- excluded. In a world of competition, there is little to protect them.
Where money rules, almost everything becomes scarce. When power and even justice can be bought, there is little left for those who are poor. Here, too, there are only winners and losers.
When money reigns supreme, even the call for justice comes to be
counted as a cost factor. The powerful will be careful not to apologize
for acts of injustice for fear of claims for monetary compensation. As
for those who have nothing to lose, in extreme cases some of them may
turn to violence in order to command attention and assert their rights
-- only to be met with relentless retaliation.
It is in this merciless world that the "grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all" (Titus 2:11). This is the same God whom Moses encountered as "a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness" (Exodus 34:6) and whom the psalmist praises as the one who "does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities" (Psalm 103:10). God has come into our world to live among us and to liberate us from the merciless rule of winning and losing, from the yoke of competition and scarcity.
This is the message of Christmas: "And the word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth ... From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace" (John 1:14,16).
Our world will not be saved by increased competitiveness in the face of scarcity, but by grace and mercy. The grace of God which is God's true being has taken on human form in Jesus Christ. God's grace overrules the law of scarcity and breaks the relentless dynamic of retaliation. God does not treat us on the basis of achievement, worth or power. God gives and forgives generously, without counting the cost, and offers life in its fullness (John 10:10), particularly to those who are the losers in our merciless world.
May we therefore, this Christmas, receive from his fullness "grace upon grace!"
Bishop Dr. Christian Krause
President of the Lutheran World Federation
Bethlehem is under fire, yet again. Accessing the city is difficult. Roadblocks bar the way. Stones are being hurled. Tanks are lined up. Not so far away, people are blowing themselves up, their only goal to kill others in the process. This is what we see today of what we call the Holy Land. There is the same irreconcilable, deep hostility as that of the terrorist attacks around the world.
Bethlehem is in the middle of it all. This is the place towards which worldwide Christianity turns anew, especially at Christmas time as it is the place of Jesus' birth. Here, the savior who brings great salvation to this Earth was born. Is this something we can trust? Or is crouching behind a wall, clutching a stone or grenade, waiting until the steps come closer, a safer option? No, we do not want to seek salvation that way. We must overcome all obstacles and reach the stable in Bethlehem, at God's mercy amid poverty, and at peace amid war. Christ the Savior is born!
This is the option offered again this year by the Christmas message,
God's option for mercy and for peace among those whom he favors. These
are basic values that we agree to take up anew. Then, hope can grow, and
we can encourage each other even in the darkness of today's world as the
shepherds urged each other to set out together in the night some 2,000
years ago: "Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken
place, which the Lord has made known to us!" (Luke 2:15)
This is the other way to Bethlehem, the Christmas road, along which our hope for peace and yearning for humanness and warmth will reach their destination. This is the other story of Bethlehem, the Christmas story of the birth of the savior Jesus Christ, who brings his great salvation to the earth, irrespective of our place in this world.
Dear sisters and brothers in the worldwide Lutheran community, I send you cordial Christmas greetings, and wish you strength of faith and of trust in the message of God's coming!
General John Gowans
General, International Salvation Army
Most of us have had the experience of receiving gifts that we don't like. "Why did they send me this?" we mutter ungratefully. "What good is it to me? I don't need it!"
There's nothing new about unwanted gifts. The first Christmas gift had a mixed reception, though it was blindingly beautiful. Wrapped in swaddling clothes, and lying in a manger, God had made a gift of himself to a world which badly needed him, but didn't know it.
In the first chapter of John's Gospel we find a stunning statement. Speaking of the Son of God it says: "He came unto his own ... ." He came to the human creatures that he had made and joined them. He came to the vulnerability, which is part of being human; the limitations, the hurts, the disappointments, the suffering and the distress. Christ was God incarnate, totally sharing the human experience, including the messy business of coming into the world and getting out of it. God identified himself with humanity. He made the gift of himself. It beggars description. It's wonder-full. It deserves 10 billion candles on a billion Christmas trees.
But the most wonderful phrase is followed by the most sad. "He came unto his own -- and his own received him not!" They showed him the door! God was not welcome. He was an unwanted gift.
Christmas is part of the world's history, but it is also a contemporary event. God is forever coming into the world, your world and mine. He is always offering the gift of himself as a counselor, a protector, a companion, a comforter, a healer, a savior. Christmas is a cheerful reminder of all this, but it seems we have neither the sense nor the courage to receive the gift. We are needlessly afraid of him. We put up the `Not Wanted!' and `Not Necessary!' signs and our desperate spiritual poverty is the result.
He still comes unto his own ... that's the good news. And his own still don't want him ... that's the tragedy. But those who do accept the gift of his presence in their lives still receive with this the right and the power to become God's children, bearing a strong family resemblance to the Christ ... That's breathtaking!
God is renewing his personal offering of himself to us again this Christmas. Inside the parcel wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger we will not only find a love that will not let us go but also a power which will make Christlikeness possible for us. Possible, not easy. Not suddenly, but certainly.
Don't say you don't want it. Take it! It's yours! If you do, I promise you, you will have an extremely happy Christmas.
Archbishop of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America
As we observe the Nativity season and celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, we do so in a time of great challenges and concerns. We have seen and experienced the tragic events of Sept. 11. We are aware of the tremendous suffering of those who have lost family members and of communities burdened by poverty and war. We are being challenged by economic and political repercussions that have significant consequences for the entire world. We are trying to address the complex issues of contemporary American society within our homes, parishes, and schools. We know that many in today's world are seeking truth, assurance, comfort and hope.
With these concerns on our hearts and minds, we turn to the unique event that we will celebrate in a few days -- the Christmas event, the birth of our Lord. We turn to the beautiful images and words of the Christmas narrative in the Holy Gospels, which offer timely direction for our labors in this world, specifically our compassionate response to the needs of 21st century America.
In the Gospel of Matthew, we read the story of the Magi, the wise men from the East who came to Jerusalem saying, "Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the East and have come to worship him" (Matthew 2:2). After determining that the Christ child was in Bethlehem, the Magi came to where he was, worshipped him and offered to him treasures of gold, frankincense, and myrrh (Matthew 2:11).
The significance of this offering made by the wise men is one of the
contemporary insights provided by this age-old story. First, their
offering was of the highest quality. They gave gifts of tremendous
substance in honor of the savior of the world. Second, their journey of
days and months revealed an expectant faith and a deep determination in
response to the revelation of God. They left their homes, they traveled
to a distant land under the constant threat of peril, they lived
sacrificially, they offered themselves.
This Christmas story has a momentous application to our daily lives and to the work of our parishes. Above all, the selfless offering of the Magi to the Christ child inspires each one of us to come and worship him. For the encounter with Christ, the experience of his life-changing presence, leads us to offer to him not simply earthly treasure but the gift of ourselves.
Further, as we offer our lives through faith and worship, we are guided by him in offering the treasures of our Orthodox Christian faith "to those who are far off and to those who are near" (Ephesians 2:17).
First, we must offer the best that we have, for our offering is both to God and to humankind. Quality, distinction, and value should not only be descriptive of the essence of Orthodoxy, but it should also refer to the measure of our gifts of time and resources, to the manner in which we offer to the ministries and appearance of our parishes, and to our persistent response to the spiritual longings and physical burdens of our world.
Therefore, as we celebrate the blessed Nativity of Jesus Christ, let us do so in the manner of the Magi. Listen to God's call, and journey to new places and new heights of service. Offer the treasures of our Orthodox Christian faith in a manner that reveal their value and relevance to the challenges and needs of our contemporary world. Diligently seek the will of God who became human being for us, and salvation will be offered through your life to those around you.
May I offer to you my fervent wishes that the joy of this season fills your hearts, your homes and your parishes, and that the very same joy will accompany you throughout the dawning new year. The Prince of Peace has come, he has offered himself to each one of us, and he has promised to be with us all the days, to the end of time, to the end of the world (Matthew 28:20). The Most Rev. Frank T. Griswold III
Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church
A prayer at Christmas:
"O God, your passionate Word to our warring and divided world is Jesus, who, arms stretched upon a cross, breaks down all walls of division and hostility and holds all people and all creation in a fierce embrace of unyielding and unconquerable love.
As we celebrate his birth in the shadow of September and all that has happened in its wake, give us eyes to see that the One who lies in the manger is more than a baby: he is our peace.
May Christ find room in our hearts anew to love the world through us "for the healing of the nations."
This we pray in the name of the One who reconciled all things to you and is source and ending of our life, Jesus, Emmanuel.