Dear Pastors, Congregations, Partners in Ministry, Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
Greetings in the name of our God — Father, Son and Holy Spirit — as we look forward to the celebration of our Lord’s birth at Christmas and His glorious return when the Father will call us all home to be with Him forever!
The purpose of this letter is to thank you for your good and faithful ministry, and for your partnership in the work of the Gospel. It is my deepest and most sincere desire and prayer that this Christmas season will be one in which we offer a strong and encouraging word of hope to a world that is in desperate need of what only our Lord Jesus can give.
There is little doubt that we are living in challenging times. Our world continues to be threatened by a global pandemic that appears to be with us for an uncertain amount of time. Our nations continue to be torn by politics that tend to separate and divide rather than unify and lead to peace. The uncertainty of the stock markets, the threat of increased inflation, the tension that exists between some of our world’s strongest nations — these are but a few of the many reasons why people are concerned for their futures and find little reason to hope for the generations that will follow.
At the same time, as followers of Jesus, we know that the troubles of this world are only of this world. As real as they are and as challenging and troubling as they might be, they do not and never will have the final say. The final say belongs to God. The final word is always and only His. And the Word He has given to us, in His Son, Jesus Christ, is one in which we find real and lasting hope.
In his letter to the believers in Galatia, the apostle Paul points to the confidence we can have in our God who knows and sees and responds to our deepest needs in a timely manner. “When the time had fully come, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights as sons” (Galatians 4:4-5).
Our hope is in Jesus. Our security is in Christ. We have been redeemed, bought back, justified, and made right with God in what has been accomplished for us in His Son. Christmas offers a word of needed and lasting hope to all who are willing to place their trust in Jesus.
It is always helpful, in troubling times, to remember the context of the world into which our Lord Jesus was born. People were fearful of the political powers. Although there was a Roman peace, it was one brought about by a singular power instead of a shared unity. Countries were divided. Families were being torn apart. Racism was real. Life was fragile. There was as much anxiety and fear in Jesus’ day as there is in ours. Although much has changed in our world in the past 2000 years, little has changed when it comes to this world’s troubles and the need people have for a real and lasting word of hope.
Over the past several months, as travel restrictions have eased up, I have had the privilege and joy of visiting some of our mission districts and congregations. There is no doubt that our pastors have been challenged. There is no denying that the past year and a half have been a struggle and that the resulting impact of the pandemic has reduced the number of people in worship. There is also little doubt that God is alive and at work, and no denying that the lives of people for whom our Lord Jesus gave His life on the cross continue to be transformed.
My encouragement to our pastors is to not become too concerned with what might appear to be a decline in the impact we are having through our ministries. The deceiver wants nothing more than for us to focus on the numbers and percentages that would lead us to become discouraged. Rather, our calling is to fix our eyes on Jesus and to remember that there is nothing in this world that can stop the power of the life-giving message offered in Him.
Continue to love your people. Find new ways to make the connections that are so vital to our faith and life. Fulfill the ministry to which you have been called. The Church belongs to Jesus. He is Lord. He knows the challenges we face. Be encouraged by His presence in your ministry and His promise to give hope.
The promise and presence of the Christ child, born in Bethlehem’s manger, is as needed and relevant today as it was when our Lord was born. As the familiar Christmas hymn puts it, “The hopes and fears of all the years” are still being met and fulfilled in the Word made flesh, God’s only Son, Jesus Christ.
As I reflect on the events of this past year and the work of our congregations and ministry partners, I cannot help but give thanks for the many ways in which God has been blessing us from the start. We are now in our twelfth year as a church body. We have missionaries and ministries in more than ten countries around the world. We have a vision for our future. We have a renewed energy and focus for our work. We have the guidance of God’s Holy Spirit. We have the gift of forgiveness and life eternal in God’s only Son. And we have the purpose our Lord has given us in His commission, to “make disciples of all nations,” and the promise of Emmanuel, “God with us” in all things.
For these reasons, and many more, we are and will always be a people of hope. As a result, let us be bold in our witness and confident in the words we share. We carry a message our world needs to hear, and we follow the One who has called and claimed us for eternity.
Thank you for your faithful witness. Thank you for the partnership we share in Christ. Thank you for persevering in what has been another challenging year. I look forward to the year ahead and to continuing the work that is ours in Jesus.
It is a joy and an honor to serve as your bishop. Know that my prayers are with each of you. Have a blessed and a hope-filled Christmas!
North American Lutheran Church