Dear pastors, congregations, partners in ministry, sisters and brothers in Christ,
I am writing this Christmas letter to say thanks for your good and faithful work, for your partnership in the ministry of the Gospel, and in hopes that it might serve as an encouragement to you in your witness to the saving message of Jesus during this Christmas season and into the new year.
This past year has been like no other in our shared history. The year 2020 will be remembered for many reasons. A worldwide pandemic, the ups and downs of the stock markets, the loss of jobs, the closure of businesses and schools, the death of loved ones, racial tension, political divide, masks and social distancing and lockdowns like we have never seen before.
Add to those culture challenges the ones faced in the Church and it is no different. Pastors have been struggling to serve their people, even as they have been limited in how they are able to be with their people. Churches have had to close; some of them for many months. Even as things begin to reopen, it is never fully clear how and when and in what ways we should begin to move forward.
We were all surprised by the advent of the coronavirus. We have all been working to adjust to the changes that have become ever so real in our world. This past year is one, in many ways, that we lament. We pray that the coming year will be one in which some of these past and present difficulties will be truly in our past.
At the same time, we need to remember that our surprise was not God’s. The things that were difficult for us were not hard to navigate for Him. God is sovereign. He is in control. And even though we cannot see the future and the way out, we trust in the One who knows all and who is all.
The promise of the Christmas message to those shepherds in the fields is as needed and relevant today as it was back then. “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11 NIV84).
Those two little words “to you” are at the heart of the Christmas message. Those two little words “to you” are at the heart of what’s in the heart of God. God loved this world so much that He was willing to send His Son. God loves you so much that He was willing to offer Him on the cross as a sacrifice for your sin.
You and I are privileged to be among the ones called and chosen by God to carry and proclaim that Good News to the world. In spite of the pandemic, independent of the social and cultural challenges we find and face in the world, we trust and believe and follow the One who has redeemed it all in Jesus.
As I reflect on the events of this past year, in particular within the NALC, I cannot help but give thanks to the God who has been with us from the start. We are now more than 10 years into our life together as a church body. We have missionaries and ministries in more than 10 countries around the world. We have a vision for our future. We have a new and renewed focus and energy 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 promise of Emmanuel, “God with us” in all things.
I look forward to the year ahead and to the events of this past year being in our past. At the same time, I do not want you and I to wish our lives away. For now, we find ourselves in a challenging chapter in our world’s story. We cannot see, nor predict, what the chapters ahead might bring. We do, however, know how the story ends and where and in whom we find hope. His name is Jesus. He was born into our world more than 2000 years ago. And He is still with us, through His Holy Spirit, to lead us and to guide us into a future that belongs to Him.
Thank you for your faithful witness and work. Thank you for the partnership we share in Christ. Thank you for persevering in what has been a challenging year. I look forward to the year ahead and to continuing the work and the witness we share.
We are a privileged people. We carry a message our world needs to hear. Let us be bold in our witness and confident in the words we speak.
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 Christmas!