To: People of the Episcopal Diocese of Western Michigan

From :  The Rt. Rev. Whayne M. Hougland, Jr.
            IX Bishop of Western Michigan

My Dear Friends,

A swastika was rudely spray painted on the back wall of St. James Church, Albion soon after our recent national election. It greatly frightened the congregation. This hateful act desecrated one of our sacred spaces causing considerable pain and grief amongst the loving, generous people of St. James, who actively serve their community. They felt vulnerable and alone, and are still struggling with fear and anger, feeling violated and attacked. The offensive symbol has been removed, but its presence remains, a haunting reminder that vile, ugly darkness exists in the heart of humankind.                  
The news of this violation reached the good people of Trinity Church, Marshall. They heard the cries of their brothers and sisters. Their response was not some empty obligation of thoughts and prayers. No, they responded by sending a delegation to attend the next Sunday service at St. James.
Quite simply, Trinity Church showed up. They stood with their hurting friends. They prayed with them, worshipped with them, and stood among them. Showing up, standing with, and entering into another's struggle makes all the difference. When we show up, the lonely are no longer alone. When we stand with the vulnerable, they are protected and have help carrying the burden. When we enter into another's struggle, that which is desecrated is re-consecrated, and the whole ugly scene is reclaimed, restored, redeemed.
This is as beautiful and hopeful a Christmas story as I have ever heard. We may find ourselves and our world awash in grief and fear. We may find ourselves isolated and vulnerable and alone. We may feel hopeless and lost, violated or oppressed. And then someone comes and stands with us. Or holds us. Or listens to us, and the darkness doesn't feel so dark. It's like a holy light illuminating a deep darkness, as the hope of new life appears in the presence of the one willing to come and humbly stand with us.
This is what the incarnation is all about - Emmanuel, God with us. At Christmas, the one Holy God comes to us, dwells among us, stands with us, and in so doing, transforms our often ugly and dangerous world into a more loving and peaceful, gracious and holy place. God with us redeems hatefulness. God with us restores the profane. God with us makes the world livable and gives us the way to live peaceably with each other. This is why Christmas is so holy and blessed. This is how the miraculous Kingdom of God comes near.
Looking for the perfect Christmas gift? Go stand with the lonely, the vulnerable, the voiceless. Want to spread Christmas cheer? Go stand with the frightened, the violated, the persecuted. Want to understand the true meaning of Christmas? Go stand with the hurting and the hungry, the fearful and the oppressed, the rejects and the disenfranchised. 

Given the hateful rhetoric and divisiveness of our recent national election, it appears we may have ample opportunity to do some great gift giving.
My friends, be bold and of good courage, show up and stand with so all may know the hope born in Emmanuel, God with us.

Merry Christmas,

IX Bishop, Western Michigan
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