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 and victorious 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 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.
As you know, there are more personal messages sent during the Christmas season than any other time of the year. More than 2 billion Christmas cards will be sent in North America alone. There is something about Christmas that encourages people to stay in touch with those they love. There’s also a built-in opportunity for us, during the Christmas season, to share the message of what God has done and accomplished for us in Jesus.
The Bible says, “In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets; but in these last days He has spoken to us by a Son” (Hebrews 1:1-2). The message of Christmas is a word spoken directly to us from God. It is also a word that offers and promises stability and hope, when so much of world is hopeless and unstable.
It is mindboggling how fast our world is changing. Many of our college students are studying for jobs that do not yet exist. Not only that, but they are also doing so in a world where there is more information at our fingertips than information available less than a generation prior.
When I was growing up, it was nothing like it is today. When we needed to know something, we pulled out our encyclopedias and looked it up. Now, you just google it and there it is. One click on the screen and the information is there.
What’s fascinating is that with this advance in technology we also have access to more relationships with more people than was ever before possible. It used to be that your friends were those who lived next door or down the street. You went to the same school or the same church and those were your friends. Today, you can have friends on the other side of the world. You can have relationships with people who live in places you’ve never been and with whom you’ve never met.
Do you know what else is fascinating, almost frightening? In this world where there’s more information available and accessible than ever before, and where it’s now possible to have more friends in more places and have more contact with them than we’ve ever before had, there’s also a growing number of people in our world, individuals in this connected and friend-filled society, who are feeling less-connected and more de-friended than they have ever been.
Recent studies have shown that for many there’s more anxiety over losing a phone than there is over losing a friend. For many, their best friend has become their phone. And their phones are the main and the primary connection they have with their best friends.
It’s not surprising that some of the same studies have also shown that there’s a longing in our society, like never before, for connections and communities that actually care for each other. In this increasingly more-connected-than-ever world, there’s a longing for more connections that are truly real.
On that first Christmas, God was careful and intentional in making the connection He did when He sent His Son into our world. And He was personal in doing it because He was doing it in the person of Jesus Christ. He was connecting with us, so we could connect with Him. He was becoming a person with us, so we could begin to see Him and know Him in a personal way.
As challenging as it is for us in our society today to reach the hearts of people for Jesus, let us not forget that the relationship we have with God, in Christ, is the kind of relationship people are longing to find. God came into our world to make an incarnate and in-person connection with us. It was also the reason, and still is, that God has called us together in the Church. Let us not forget or neglect the importance of gathering together as the Body of Christ.
As you proclaim the name of Jesus this Christmas and as you bear witness to the relationship God has established with us in His Son, do so with boldness and confidence that the Holy Spirit is working through your proclamation to connect with and draw people to Christ. Do it also with a sincere desire and prayer that God will open new doors for new relationships to be established with those for whom our Lord Jesus was born.
Thank you for your faithful witness. Thank you for the work you do and the partnership we share. It continues to be 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, as we celebrate the incarnate relationship that is eternally ours with God in Jesus!
North American Lutheran Church