Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
They can create or destroy possibilities. Human beings, perhaps unique in all earthly creation, have access to a linguistic power that can influence, for good or ill, our relationship with each other, with other communities, with ourselves, and with God.
Nowadays, in the digital age, words have a concentrated impact on minds that feel cut off and disenfranchised from healthy, peaceful communities. Our society is now reckoning with the capacity of hate-filled organizations to use social media to attract and “radicalize” vulnerable souls to commit acts of violence in the name of God. The term “radicalize” itself might apply to persons of any faith, including those who claim to follow Jesus.
In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of San Bernardino and Paris, and the over 350 mass shootings that have occurred in the current calendar year, we might be right to wonder if it matters whether a person was killed as a result of an organized cult of death (such as the hypocritical ISIS which does not live by the word of its professed sacred text), or a deranged person with an assault weapon. Does the choice between the words “terrorist” and “mass murderer” make any difference to the dead or the grieving? It is all sin. That’s the word, rarely used, that our faith teaches about how we deface the image of God in ourselves and in our neighbor.
As we approach Christmas, I urge us to pray words that open and create a new reality that overcomes sin in all its forms. Jesus, The Word-made-flesh has entered into our world in order to usher in possibilities that all people can be reconciled to God and each other, even now, in this time of trial, despair, and fear.
As we gather around the Nativity scenes, Christmas trees, candles, and garlanded tables with family and friends this season, I invite us to pray with renewed urgency. Prayer is how we can hear again the deeper story, the truer news, of God’s tidings of hope and peace. The passage that draws me close to God these days comes from the prophet Isaiah, who lived in times such as ours, full of terror and threat, both domestic and foreign. He dreamed of a time when God would intervene, and his dream came true. It will again. Indeed, it already has in Jesus:
Arise, shine for your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord has dawned upon you.
For behold, darkness covers the land;
deep gloom enshrouds the peoples.
But over you the Lord will rise,
and his glory will appear upon you.
Nations will stream to its light,
and kings to the brightness of your dawning.
Your gates will always be open;
by day or night they will never be shut.
They will call you, The City of the Lord,
The Zion of the Holy One of the Lord.
Violence will no more be heard in your land,
ruin or destruction within your borders.
You will call your walls Salvation,
and all your portals, Praise.
The sun will no more be your light by day;
by night you will not need the brightness of the moon.
The Lord will be your everlasting light,
and your God will be your glory. (Isaiah 60)
There is so much in this song that contradicts the strident words of our times: violence, hatred, terror. As our earthly leaders struggle to come up with domestic and foreign strategies for the security of our nation and for the world, it’s critical for people of faith to be reminded of what God’s vision for humanity is. So I urge my cherished Episcopal Church of New Hampshire to pray this song of Isaiah in our morning, noonday, and nighttime prayers. May we commit it to our hearts; without doubt, Jesus knew it by heart. May this prayer strengthen our faith, enlighten our thoughts, enkindle our love, and direct our actions. May the Word-made-flesh speak in us and transform our words and actions into a shining light in these darkened days.
Words matter. And the Word-made-flesh, our flesh, all flesh, makes all the difference.
May your Advent be holy and your Christmas full of light.
The Right Reverend A.Robert Hirschfeld, Bishop, Episcopal Church of New Hampshire