Joy to the world! The Lord is come: let earth receive her King; let every heart prepare him room, and heaven and nature sing.
Perhaps like me, you’ve sung this hymn for years – in church, at home with your family, gathered with friends and neighbors. Perhaps you’ve sung it to yourself – in your car, on a walk, or quietly in the dark of night.
Joy to the world!
While we may not feel joyful this year – as the pandemic of disease continues to bring sickness and death, when fear and mistrust – a darkness – threatens to overcome the light – we, as followers of Jesus Christ must bear joy to this aching world. We must shine light into the darkness. Joy to the world!
Like much in our lives, proclaiming joy is difficult work – also good and essential work – especially now. Though we mourn that which is lost in our lives, our families, and our communities – Joy to the world!
While we strive to pull up the twisted and thorny vines of hatred and bigotry and anger – Joy to the world!
Through streaming tears and gritted teeth – Joy to the world! – because God is breaking into our lives and into this world anew.
While this is a strange year, the ministry He gives us remains the same. We will prepare him room in our hearts by taking on the ministry Jesus demands of us: feed those who are hungry; welcome the stranger; clothe those who are naked; heal those who are sick; visit the prisoner. Love God. Love your neighbor. Sing joy into this old world. Prepare him room.
St. Luke writes of the first Christmas, “[Mary] gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” There, in the simplest bed, in the cool of the night, in a trough, in bands of cloth, lies the One for whom no room was made. And yet strangely, there lies the One whom not even the universe can contain.
Joy to the world! The Lord is come. In your hearts, in your homes, in your lives, prepare him room.
God love you; God bless you; and may God hold us all in those almighty hands of love.
The Most Rev. Michael B. Curry
Presiding Bishop and Primate
The Episcopal Church
December 21, 2020
The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness,
on them light has shined.
Not for a long time, have these words of Isaiah fallen on our ears as significantly as they do this Christmas. Particularly, perhaps, for those of us who live in a culture of privilege and comparative security, the darkness of fear and uncertainty has been as novel as the coronavirus, itself. For months, we have strained our eyes in search of even a glimmer of hope. The combined pandemics of COVID-19, racial injustice, and political animosity have conspired to obscure our vision of a safe, stable, and just future. They have made us starkly aware of what Isaiah called this world’s yokes of burden – illness, poverty, inequality, and oppression – the bars on our shoulders and, more significantly, the shoulders of others, and the countless forms that the rod of their oppressors takes. This year has presented us with an absence of light that, ironically, has itself illuminated the physical, emotional, and spiritual healing necessary for the wholeness and holiness of the world.
The “Great Conjunction” of Jupiter and Saturn this week, that vicennial astrological event dubbed the Christmas Star, feels an apt metaphor of the light for which we yearn: something brighter than usual in this year when we have walked through unexpected darkness of many sorts. The star of the Nativity, which some imagine to have been a similar conjunction of two planets, was not the true light of the world, rather it pointed to it. In the words of Reginald Heber’s beautiful hymn, the “star of the East, its horizon adorning, guide[s] where our infant Redeemer is laid.”
In the story of the Incarnation of God in Christ Jesus, there are innumerable lights. The two most obvious are the light of the Star of Bethlehem and the Light of the World to which it led shepherds and kings alike. At the same time, the shepherds and kings themselves were lights, their adoration and devotion guiding generations of seekers to the Christ child, including our own.
In turn, of course, you, too, are a Christmas Star. Each of you. It is your vocation as a Christian to shine brighter than the usual, especially in times of extraordinary darkness, to illumine the divine love born in all of God’s children and brighten their lives with a hope whose source is God alone. Because you are beloved of God, you have an inner light that cannot be contained by any fear or shame or conviction of inadequacy. As fragile and dim as you may feel it is, by the spirit of holiness it can pierce even the deepest darkness, because that is the very nature of both light and love.
In this season of new light, I give thanks for each of you and for all that you do to illuminate the love of God, incarnated in the birth of Jesus. In him, you, too, are the light of the world, and the darkness can and will never overcome you.
With every Christmas blessing,
The Rt. Rev. Mark Hollingsworth, Jr.
Bishop of Ohio
shining from before time and beyond place,
focused like the sun’s rays through a magnifying glass
on the lowly stable of divine birth,
there ignites in humankind
the perfect love of God.
In the softly beating heart
of the humble and sacrificial Savior,
begins to burn a flame of justice and peace,
safeguarded by the humility and sacrifice
of generations through whom will shine its
Mark Hollingsworth, Jr.