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A Christmas Message from Bishop Mark J. Webb: The Right Spot

December 24, 2023

Photo by Myriam Zilles on Unsplash.
Photo by Myriam Zilles on Unsplash.

I have such fond memories of the Christmas season in my life as a child. I grew up in a home that practiced many of the traditions and experiences that as a kid, made the preparation and celebration of Christmas a magical time. Together, my dad and I would hang the outdoor Christmas lights. As a family we would make that annual journey into the forest (really it was just a field) in search of the perfect Christmas tree, which we would decorate with ornaments that held such significance. Ornaments that once hung on my great-grandmother’s tree. Ornaments that my sister and I had made. Ornaments that family and friends had given over the years as gifts.  

Of course, there was the annual Christmas party at my home church, where Santa would make an appearance and have a gift, candy cane and popcorn ball for every child. When I became older, I realized why my dad always had to work late on the nights of those Christmas parties, you see he was a very special helper to Santa. Once I knew that little secret, one of my great joys of the Christmas season was to travel with my dad, as he went to local nursing homes in that red suit and brought smiles of joy to the residents who filled those places.

I was blessed to be raised in a family that also made this time of preparation, a holy time. I can remember together lighting the advent wreaths that my sister and I had made in Sunday School. Attending special advent services at our church. Sitting together with extended family at the 11:00 p.m. Christmas Eve service, anticipating the opportunity to light a candle, sing Silent Night and experience the stroke of midnight, the arrival of Christmas.

My greatest memory of all however, is the one that involved setting up the crèche – the nativity that sat on top of our television set, every Christmas season. Oh, how I remember carefully unwrapping every figure and placing them in their rightful spot, as we remembered the events of that very first Christmas. My sister and I would always fight about who got to place the baby Jesus in the manger. But no matter who won the fight – we almost always ended up doing it together and making sure that the baby Jesus was placed in the right spot within that nativity scene.

In the 40th chapter of Isaiah we find these words that have become so familiar to us: In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” For the Israelites in exile, this invitation, this urging to lay out a miraculous, sacred highway through the wilderness, removing all obstacles so that the glory of the Lord could lead the return of God’s people from a place of confusion, grief, and loss, was an invitation of hope and life. These are words that John the Baptist used as he introduced the ministry of Jesus and called upon the people of his day to repent, turn around and turn toward the fullness of life offered by God through Jesus.

I now realize that I had it wrong as a child. My focus should not have been on making sure that Jesus was in the right spot, but rather being certain that I was. The seasons of Advent and Christmas give us an opportunity to examine our lives and the position of our lives in relationship to God. God never changes, God never moves. The Christ of the manger is always in the same spot – right in front of us – beside us – behind us. We are always and forever surrounded by God’s grace. The gift has been given. The promise is secured.

I want to be in the right spot in relationship to God. I know there are aspects of my life that I still hold on to and attempt to control. There are barriers that I place around me that keep me from experiencing the fullness of God’s grace – the reality of God’s gift in Jesus. There are experiences of life that happen and the only thing I have control over is my response to them and the place where I put my trust.  

I need to prepare the way; I need to turn around. I need to return to the place where God has called me. Maybe that’s true for you as well. Perhaps this season of Advent and Christmas can be a time where we make certain that we are in the right spot. Fully open, fully willing to let the gift of Jesus be all it is intended to be.

And here’s what I believe, when we are in the right spot, God will then use our lives to help others recognize the amazing grace found in the manager. We will have the opportunity this Christmas and every day, to invite others to move from exile to promise, despair to hope, and uncertainty to absolute confidence that the gift of Jesus belongs to them. We will truly live what we say our mission is in The Global Methodist Church: To make disciples of Jesus Christ who worship passionately, love extravagantly and witness boldly.

Friends, live boldly this Christmas season! Create a sense of urgency everywhere you go. We have good news to experience in a fresh way and we have good news to share with those around us.  

Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2.10-11)

The Christ child in the manger is in the right spot. Are we?

May this Christmas season be the best. A time of living out traditions and creating new experiences. May it be a time unlike any other in our lives because we made a choice to live the promise and open our lives every moment to the grace of God that surrounds us.

Merry Christmas!

Bishop Mark J. Webb is an episcopal leader in the Global Methodist Church.

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