Christmas Greetings

by Rt. Rev. Steve Breedlove on February 09, 2024

A blessed fifth Day of Christmas to you! 

My hope in this family-and-friend-rich season, with inboxes already full of Advent-and-Christmastide offerings from local churches and national ministries, is to grab five quick minutes of your time as we head into 2024.  

This year has opened up for me a deeper appreciation of one particular gift our tradition brings to Advent and Christmastide, Lessons and Carols. (Nine Lessons and Carols gives an excellent history of this Anglican gift to the wider Church’s worship, first formally celebrated on Christmas Eve 1880 at Truro Cathedral in Cornwall.) Sally and I joined Holy Trinity-Chapel Hill for Lessons and Carols this Christmas Eve. We were deeply ministered to by the lessons laying out the story of redemption, by David Hyman’s joyous homily, and by the special music and heartily-sung carols. Piano, cello, guitar, flute, piccolo, djimbe, and choir framed a festal evening with beautiful musical settings, some traditional, some new. (By the way, in case you did not know, Canon Ben Bowman is a gifted choral director!) 

It was an evening of pure, deep joy, anticipated in the Church Calendar on Gaudete Sunday in Advent and brought to fulness when we joined that first song of angelic glory sung to terrified shepherds on a hillside near Bethlehem. “Fear not,” Gabriel proclaimed, “I bring you glad tidings of great joy which shall be for all the people!”

Sally and I returned home, dancing in our hearts. 

The glory and joy we experienced were the effulgence of something deeper, however – something that fuels the joy when the music fades and when weariness from the doings of Christmas threatens to overwhelm us. At the heart of sustained joy is the truth, the reality, of the Gospel message of Christmastide. This Christmas Eve, in the evening service of Lessons and Carols, we heard three Gospel statements loud and clear. 

The first word, and the last word, of the Gospel is God’s love and desire for us, his creatures. There has never been a time in eternity when God was not for us.

The second word of the Gospel is this: we have not been abandoned. We are not left alone! In the Person of the Son, God has entered into the darkness of human existence and everything that the word “darkness” can possibly mean. He has entered into obscurity, weakness, and smallness, into powerlessness and poverty. He has shared the stench of manure and mold, the crowding closeness of unwashed, sheep-handling field hands, smells that embody a message of deeper filthiness and stink. He has entered onto a road that would lead to misunderstanding, hatred and ultimately the rejection, injustice, pain, and torture of the Cross. In this universe-altering “entering into,” Jesus has come to us, not to be overwhelmed or defeated by our darkness but to overcome it, to save us from our sins (Matthew 1:21).  

The third word of the Gospel is the hope of glory in our own lives. Through the incarnation, God took concrete action to release us from the burden of our best efforts to live worthy, virtuous lives, efforts that walk a tightrope between shame and pride. Instead of our constant failure or congratulating ourselves with over-inflated successes, we hear the message of mercy and grace. Instead of laws which highlight our failure, we have the gift of the Spirit, the promise of increasing sanctification, and a life of growing hope until we see our Lord face-to-face. (1 John 3:1-3; Colossians 3:1-4 beautifully bring the message of hope into singular focus. Romans 5-8 offers an in-depth exploration of the grace that offers a sustained life of hope, joy, and glory.) 

Advent’s Gaudete Sunday speaks a hint of joy and glory soon to come. With the birth of Jesus Christ, it is ours in increasing fullness. 

  • There has never been a time in eternity when God was not for us!

  • We have not been abandoned!

  • The Gospel proclaims the hope of sharing and entering into eternal glory!

A blessed Christmastide and Epiphany to you and to all whom you love!


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