To the Pastors, Deacons, and People of the Southwest California Synod, ELCA, and to all to whom this message may come:

Grace and peace to you, dear friends, in the name of Christ! In the first chapters of the Gospel of Luke, the birth of Jesus is foretold by signs and prophecies that signal not only the significance of this remarkable birth, but also what God intends for it to accomplish. Angels, prophets, and ordinary people all describe in that gospel what they hope for from the child who is to come, and they express the longings they hope Jesus will fulfill.

My favorite of these isin the prophecy of Zechariah, whose song of praise to God for the birth of his own son, whom we know as John the Baptist, describes John, the newborn prophet, as a forerunner of Jesus, who will go before Jesus, to prepare the world for him, and—as the text says—give knowledge of salvation to God’s people, getting them ready to hear the word they desperately need.

When Jesus then comes—as the prophet proclaims—it will be as the dawn from on high, breaking into a world that sits in gloom and the shadow of death. Jesus will come to bring what the benighted world needs: light, and life, and peace.

We hear these words again today with hope and longing. For even as we sit in the Southern California sunshine, the world’s pain can be felt in our community. We are grieved by the separation of families at our nation’s borders; we suffer along with migrants and asylum-seekers; and we wrestle with how to help those who are homeless. This year, in particular, we mourn the victims of the Thousand Oaks shooting and of the wildfires in Northern and Southern California. Many of us are also made anxious by the rising tension in our government and in the world, and the damage we continue to do to the environment.

More personally, as in every year, some of us mourn the loss of loved ones in the year past; people whose absence leaves a gap in our lives that the holidays make more painful. In all these ways, public and private, we too are a people who sit in shadow. But the prophecy we hear from Zechariah and John of the coming of Jesus is a hopeful one, and to hear it again this Christmas fills me with hope and joy: once again, the dawn from on high breaks upon us, and for everyone who hears the good news.

For this is indeed Good News: that we have, in Jesus, the perfect proof of God’s love and mercy, God’s good will toward all that God has made, and are given the new way of peace that Jesus calls us to follow. Love, mercy, and peace—we have everything that we need to face an uncertain world. This is God’s Christmas gift to us.

I wish you every blessing of Christmas and the new year. May God bless you and those you love.

Bishop Guy Erwin
December 21, 2018