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An Unexpected Way to Prepare for Christmas

Dear brothers and sisters,

I hope that as we head towards Christmas, you are finding the Lord’s peace in the midst of the flurry of the season. Let me share one perhaps unexpected way to prepare for Christmas.

I have been reading a daily devotional based on the work of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German pastor eventually executed for his opposition to Hitler. One day recently I read these words of his:

“I can no longer condemn or hate a brother for whom I pray, no matter how much trouble he causes me. His face, that hitherto may have been strange and intolerable to me, is transformed in intercession into the countenance of a brother for whom Christ died.”  (from Life Together, quoted in Seize The Day — With Dietrich Bonhoeffer by Charles R. Ringma)

Charles Ringma then responds to these words:

“Genuine prayer for the other person cannot but transform my own attitude. It is impossible to commend someone lovingly to the grace of God while maintaining an attitude of bitterness or resentment toward that person. My prayer for the other, first of all, becomes a prayer for myself as I lay down my resentments and seek God’s forgiveness and healing.”

Christmas gatherings may be joyous or sadly difficult, and in either case we need to pray beforehand for those we will be seeing. And this applies beyond Christmas. Pray for people within your daily lives, some of whom may feel like enemies, or at least like intruders who disturb the peace.

It helps to remember that we were indeed God’s enemies. The heart of the gospel is God reconciling enemies to himself. Paul described it this way:

“For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.” (Romans 5:10-11, ESV)

The greatest gift we have ever received, that of new life and reconciliation through Christ, began with his birth in our world and led to his death on the cross. 

You can follow his example when you pray for and love your enemies and other difficult people around you (see Matthew 5:44). This is actually a key way to prepare our hearts for the joy of Christmas. This joy is birthed afresh as we rejoice that we are no longer God’s enemies thanks to his mercy and grace. It grows as we ask the Lord to open wide our hearts to others.

May the Lord thus enable you and me to experience more deeply his “tidings of comfort and joy” this Christmas and forever.

In Jesus who came for our sakes,
+Neil
The Rt. Rev. Neil G. Lebhar 
Bishop of the Gulf Atlantic Diocese