By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.
Dear members and friends of the Pacifica Synod,
May God’s joy and hope fill your hearts in this Advent season as you prepare to celebrate the birth of the Christ child.
The biblical words quoted above were spoken by a man whose heart was filled with joy and hope. Luke tells us that Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth had lived many years without a child, and had decided that God would not grant them the blessing of being parents. But one day Zechariah was taking his turn as high priest, serving in the holy of holies, in the middle of the temple, when an angel of the Lord appeared to him. The angel told him that he and Elizabeth would have a son who would prepare the people of Israel to receive the Lord. Zechariah was understandably skeptical, though you’d think the presence of an angel where no one but the priest was supposed to set foot might have clued him in. Because of his doubt, Zechariah was rendered temporarily speechless.
When the child was born, Elizabeth first, then Zechariah through writing, made it clear that their son was to be called by the name the angel had given him. He was to be named John. As soon as this took place, Zechariah’s ability to speak was restored, and he soared into song. He was filled with joy and hope, not because his speech was back, though he must have been glad of that. Not because he and Elizabeth were first-time parents, though I’m sure they rejoiced in that fact. But his song was a song of hope and joy about the world God was bringing about through the birth of this son. He sang of a world where God’s people would be free from their enemies, where forgiveness would be known, where those who sit in darkness would see God’s great light.
Yet Zechariah’s world did not really change much after the birth of John. Rome still ruled the land of Israel. People still lived with guilt and shame. The poor remained poor, and many lacked hope for a better life. But Zechariah knew that God was acting in this world. And that knowledge filled him with hope and joy.
Our world does not always seem that much different from Zechariah’s. Our nation is increasingly polarized as even families no longer can discuss political differences without risking seething arguments. We live with wars that displace people from their homelands, violence that threatens children, and the threat of use of nuclear weapons. The most vulnerable in our society: refugees, the poor, those who have sunk into poverty due to lack of jobs and education, continue to sit in darkness and often live without hope.
And into this world, God comes. God is present in our world today as surely as God made his presence known through Jesus of Nazareth, whose arrival was announced by Zechariah’s son John. We continue to do John’s work of announcing the arrival of Jesus, who comes to bring us hope and joy, to bring light to those who sit in darkness, to guide our feet into the way of peace. We are privileged to share the gospel of God’s love in word and deed, making a difference for others and sharing the reason for the hope that we have.
I am privileged to hear the good news of how congregations and individuals throughout our synod are doing God’s work of bringing hope to our world. I am amazed at the creative and thoughtful ways in which you share God’s love with people in need. And I pray this work will continue. We know that whenever we put aside our own needs and wants in order to care for our neighbor, to listen to another’s cares, share our time with those who are hurting, stand for justice with those who suffer, speak of our faith in appropriate ways that bring hope to others, we are doing the work that God calls us to do.
So, this Advent, I want to thank you for the work you do in God’s name. Thank you for sharing in ministry throughout the territory of the Pacifica Synod and into the world. We are grateful for your prayers, your outreach, your connectedness with the synod, and your financial support of the work we do together.
May God be with you this Advent season. Thank you for the work you do in Christ’s name. And may God shine through all you do so that you may share God’s hope and joy this Advent, this Christmas, and into 2018.
Yours in Christ Jesus,
Bishop Andy Taylor