Katharine Jefferts Schori, the sometimes embattled Presiding Bishop and Primate of the Episcopal Church in the United States, which is facing attacks by hard-liners in its ranks and through a breakaway Anglican network supported by the Church of Nigeria, has issued a Christmas message which contrasts the vulnerability of God‚Äôs ways with earthly power-mongering.
The meaning of the season, said Bishop Schori, is that ‚ÄúGod comes among us in human form for all humanity, not just for our co-religionists, not just for those who expect God's appearing in the same way we do, and not just in predictable ways at the altar.‚Äù
Her message avoided hot political issues, concentrating instead on pastoral support and spiritual hope for an Episcopal community battered by the often vitriolic arguments taking place in the 77 million worldwide Anglican Communion over human sexuality.
The full text of Bishop Schori‚Äôs address is as follows:
God loved us so much that he came to dwell among us, to tent among us in human flesh... There is a wonderful echo there of God's presence in the tent while Israel wandered in the wilderness. The gift of the Incarnation says that God is willing to take on the human tent of flesh and be one with and among us.
That frail tent of flesh proves capable of holding divinity, but also capable of yielding up its spirit. Irenaeus and Athanasius insisted that the gift of Incarnation was that "God became human, that we might become divine." You and I are bearers of the image of God, and you and I share in Incarnation, for Jesus has walked this way before us. God is born in us as well.
The vulnerability of being born in obscurity, to a peasant refugee couple, in an out of the way place, says to us that God is with us in the smallest parts of life -- perhaps a reminder that we, too, may discover God in those humble and unexpected places if we are willing to go in search.
Matthew's story of the wise ones from the east who come searching for this new thing, this remarkable child, is equally a reminder that God's love extends to all, that God comes among us in human form for all humanity, not just for our co-religionists, not just for those who expect God's appearing in the same way we do, and not just in predictable ways at the altar.
Recently I watched and listened to a woman on a bus as she engaged in conversation with a three-year-old boy. The woman asked the child what happens at Christmas, but the boy, though highly verbal, wasn't able to say much. With his parents' apparent agreement, she asked him about Santa Claus, and began to tell him all about waking up on Christmas Day and finding presents. She didn't talk about St Nicholas on his feast day, or about Jesus and his birth, but she did convey a sense of the wonder and love connected to Christmas.