Dear Members and Friends of the Desert Southwest Conference,
The world will soon be putting away all signs of Christmas celebrations. Once Christmas is past, we rush to take them down and store them for another eleven months. For those of us who claim the title of “Christ Follower,” I ask you not to rush putting away the significance of Christmas in your lives.
A song I learned as a teenager rings in my heart. Jim Strathdee’s “I Am the Light of the World” calls us to keep Christmas alive:
“When the song of the angels is stilled,
when the star in the sky is gone,
when the kings and the shepherds have found their way home,
the work of Christmas is begun!”
What is the work of Christmas for those who call themselves “Followers of Jesus?” In our world, it is now more critical than ever that those who follow the Prince of Peace become ambassadors for the peace that Jesus practiced and preached. This year, as part of your commitment to Christ, I ask you to work for peace in your homes, in our communities, and in the world in these ways:
PRAY FOR PEACE!
When we hear of an act of senseless violence or natural disaster, our “go-to” action is to pause in prayer. Critics label prayer ineffective and of no consequence. But we who follow Jesus should never stop turning to God in prayer when faced with violence, destruction, loss, or when confronted by evil.
Scott Simon of National Public Radio commented after the mass shooting in San Bernardino, California in December:
“I think a lot of people who pray don’t think of it as a replacement for deeds, or an occasion to utter a gift list of desires. They pray to open their minds and hearts. They pray when words won’t come, and emotions overwhelm. They pray to mark a loss, and to try to make a moment of peace in a landscape of turmoil. They don’t see prayer as a substitute for action, but the beginning. The merit of prayer is what people do after we say Amen.”
I have come to lean on prayer as a connecting link between myself and God. I urge us to pray boldly as a means of stating honestly what the soul longs for. “Deliver us from evil,” is a frequent prayer I utter. And I wholeheartedly pray for peace. Have those prayers been granted because I have asked for them? Of course not. But perhaps in the logic of Scott Simon, it may be because I have depended on God to do the heavy lifting and I have not done enough or enlisted enough help in making the prayer for peace come to pass after I have said, “Amen.” Hence, a second thing we can all do:
WORK FOR PEACE!
If we truly commit ourselves to following Jesus, the Prince of Peace, we need to work for peace. The psalmist gives us clear direction in Psalm 34:14. “Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it.” I am convinced that followers of Jesus need to devote our lives to peace. With that commitment comes a promise to model peace ourselves.
In addition the church needs to claim its historic role in promoting peace by teaching what it means to be a practicing peacemaker. Obviously, that means we continue to preach and proclaim peace in our worship settings. But more importantly, the church must use its voice in the community to advocate for the elimination of evil and its manifestations in acts of violence. Too many of us have been silent about the frequent killings of persons by guns and other weapons.
And let me also say that the church must do more to teach what it means to live a life of peace. From the very first conversations in our kindergarten Sunday School class to the adult classes and learning groups, our role is to help people better understand and put into practice the role of Christ followers as peace makers, peace proclaimers, peace practitioners. So, here is a third thing we must be doing:
EMBODY THE PEACE!
If someone you do not know sees you, would that person know you are a Christ follower? Recent studies and writings state that one of the main things people who are not active in a Christian church think about those of us in the church is that we are hypocrites. In other words, that we do not live our lives the way we say we should. My experience is that most church people I have the privilege of meeting are sincerely trying to follow the teachings of Jesus. But too often, we do not go far enough to do what Jesus asks of us, to go the extra mile and reach beyond our comfort zones to follow him.
Howard Thurman wrote these wonderfully rich words that inspire my efforts to keep Christmas alive through the ministry of our United Methodist churches:
I will light Candles this Christmas,
Candles of joy despite all the sadness,
Candles of hope where despair keeps watch,
Candles of courage for fears ever present,
Candles of peace for tempest-tossed days,
Candles of grace to ease heavy burdens,
Candles of love to inspire all my living,
Candles that will burn all year long.
May we be encompassed by the spirit of peace today. May we promise to believe in the peace that Jesus proclaimed. May we be infused with an unshakable commitment to be practitioners and teachers of that peace in our lives every day henceforth, so that in us and with us the work of Christmas will continue.