By Archbishop Colin Johnson
Emmanuel! “God with us.” We believe that in the birth of Jesus, God became human and shares in all our life experiences, good and bad. The celebration of the Incarnate One is the celebration of God’s love, that no matter what we go through in this life, we have the assurance that God in Christ Jesus is with us.
The ordinary “stuff” of life can become an agent of God’s presence. God comes in the person of a loved-one, a friend, neighbour and even a stranger, “…for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, in prison and you visited me…as much as you did it to the least of one of these, you did it to me” (Matthew 25: 34 ff.).
I write this Christmas message in the midst of news of the heart-wrenching massacre of 26 children and their teachers in a school in Newtown, Connecticut. While what rightly horrifies us is an attack on innocent children, that it occurred in an affluent neighbourhood in our own part of the world where we can easily place ourselves, adds to the shock. Yet every day, such assaults occur—children kidnapped to staff revolutionary armies, young girls killed because they want an education, youths gunned down in gang turf wars or dying in despair from drug addictions on our own streets, innocent children brutalized in wars raging in Syria or the Congo today.
Such tragedy is a stark reminder of the reality of evil, the frailty of life, and the challenge of trying to make sense of life with all its contradictions.
Although some might question their faith in God in such circumstances, our faith speaks plainly about the reality of evil and its corrosive power. But our faith also speaks even more profoundly of hope, of faith and of love. Evil, suffering and loss do not have the last word. God is not absent!
We believe in the promise, “I am with you always”. The birth of the Christ child has ushered in a new and abiding relationship with God and the promise of life eternal. Eternal life is not about the postponement of happiness and resolution of all injustices to some never-arriving future. The story of the Incarnation is that God becomes human in our gritty midst and shares in all aspect of our lives. God, through the Holy Spirit, continues to make a dwelling in us.
A prayer from the Late Evening (Compline) service asks this:
Come, O Spirit of God,
and make within us your dwelling place and home.
May our darkness be dispelled by your light,
and our troubles calmed by your peace;
may all evil be redeemed by your love,
all pain transformed through the suffering of Christ,
and all dying glorified in his risen life.
Let us not allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by the tragic circumstances of life. God shares in our grief as much as in our joy. God comes, and God gives us others—a community, the Church—to stand with us. God always places someone in our lives to support us in all that we go through. We, too, in turn, are there for others as a sign of God’s love and goodness. We are never alone, and God is able always to provide what we need to get through the disappointments, tragedies and hurt; as he also provides friends and family to celebrate achievements, new life, and the many more good things that happen each day.
This appalling shooting reminds us, as someone wrote, of the power of a single individual to perpetrate an evil act that impacts individuals, a community, a country and the world. How can we think that the concerted acts of generous compassion, of joyful hope, and faithful love will have less impact on the world?
In the gift of God’s Son Jesus, we find God’s provision of love, hope, peace, joy, goodness, and the desire for peace on earth and good will to all. We live in the expectant hope of a better tomorrow, in the empowering courage to act out of generous compassion, and in the abiding confidence that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
May you and those you hold close to your heart, and all people, have a blessed Christmas and a peaceful New Year.
The Most Reverend Colin R. Johnson
Archbishop of Toronto and
Metropolitan of Ontario