The Rev. Konrad Raiser
General Secretary of the World Council of Churches

We live in a world without mercy, where more and more people feeltrapped. Time and money have established their merciless rule. Thesecret of their power is scarcity. Time is money, they say. Those whohave a lot of money never have time, and the poor perhaps have time butno money. Yet they need money in order to live, so they borrow, and thenthey find themselves trapped in the relentless grip of debt.

We are told that in a world of scarcity, competition is the best wayto achieve more. Competition obeys the merciless rule of winning andlosing. Because time and money are scarce, the one who moves faster orcan offer the better price will win. Those who are too slow or havelittle to offer are eliminated from the race -- excluded. In a world ofcompetition, there is little to protect them.

Where money rules, almost everything becomes scarce. When power andeven 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 becounted as a cost factor. The powerful will be careful not to apologizefor acts of injustice for fear of claims for monetary compensation. Asfor those who have nothing to lose, in extreme cases some of them mayturn 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 Mosesencountered as "a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and aboundingin steadfast love and faithfulness" (Exodus 34:6) and whom the psalmistpraises as the one who "does not deal with us according to our sins, norrepay us according to our iniquities" (Psalm 103:10). God has come intoour world to live among us and to liberate us from the merciless rule ofwinning and losing, from the yoke of competition and scarcity.

This is the message of Christmas: "And the word became flesh andlived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father'sonly son, full of grace and truth ... From his fullness we have allreceived, grace upon grace" (John 1:14,16).

Our world will not be saved by increased competitiveness in the faceof scarcity, but by grace and mercy. The grace of God which is God'strue being has taken on human form in Jesus Christ. God's graceoverrules the law of scarcity and breaks the relentless dynamic ofretaliation. God does not treat us on the basis of achievement, worth orpower. God gives and forgives generously, without counting the cost, andoffers life in its fullness (John 10:10), particularly to those who arethe losers in our merciless world.

May we therefore, this Christmas, receive from his fullness "graceupon 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. Notso far away, people are blowing themselves up, their only goal to killothers in the process. This is what we see today of what we call theHoly Land. There is the same irreconcilable, deep hostility as that ofthe terrorist attacks around the world.

Bethlehem is in the middle of it all. This is the place towardswhich worldwide Christianity turns anew, especially at Christmas time asit is the place of Jesus' birth. Here, the savior who brings greatsalvation to this Earth was born. Is this something we can trust? Or iscrouching behind a wall, clutching a stone or grenade, waiting until thesteps come closer, a safer option? No, we do not want to seek salvationthat way. We must overcome all obstacles and reach the stable inBethlehem, at God's mercy amid poverty, and at peace amid war. Christthe 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. Theseare basic values that we agree to take up anew. Then, hope can grow, andwe can encourage each other even in the darkness of today's world as theshepherds urged each other to set out together in the night some 2,000years ago: "Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has takenplace, which the Lord has made known to us!" (Luke 2:15)

This is the other way to Bethlehem, the Christmas road, along whichour hope for peace and yearning for humanness and warmth will reachtheir destination. This is the other story of Bethlehem, the Christmasstory of the birth of the savior Jesus Christ, who brings his greatsalvation to the earth, irrespective of our place in this world.

Dear sisters and brothers in the worldwide Lutheran community, Isend you cordial Christmas greetings, and wish you strength of faith andof trust in the message of God's coming!