Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Bishop's Message

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

The secular Christmas season begins after Thanksgiving. At least, what is called Black Friday used to inaugurate secular Christmas. This year stores opened their doors to bargain hunters on the evening of Thanksgiving itself. To be honest, management stocked their shelves with Christmas fare as soon as Halloween passed. (The secular calendar does not recognize All Saints’ Day.)

This year has been especially disorienting for those of us who follow the Church Year. In most years, secular Christmas competes with Advent. This year lights and decorations in private homes anticipated even Advent, since Thanksgiving preceded Christ the King instead of First Advent.

The disconnect between the secular calendar and the Church’s calendar can be jarring. It seems also to invite the Crabby Appleton in some of us to emerge. Some among us take offense at, others condescend to, and yet still others even heap contempt upon these secular practices. If evangelism works by attraction, some of us fall flat on our faces at this time of year. Crabby Appleton is unattractive at all times, but especially when so many people are obviously seeking some source of joy and relief in their lives.

And that is what I call each of us to recognize in the secular practices of hyper-consumption and revelry. Life is challenging and from to time it’s even scary. In the course of our daily routines we can begin to wonder if life is simply one thing after another. Is this all heading somewhere or is life a mere succession of repetitive activities? Alarm, breakfast, get the kids to school, work, lunch, work, dinner, fight the kids about homework, bed, repeat.

No wonder people leap at the chance to experience the extraordinary. They are looking for some assurance that all this ordinary time leads to some higher joy, some greater sense of significance, some abiding tranquility. Their desire is completely understandable, even if we who follow Jesus recognize that real peace and joy will not come from buying stuff and going to too many parties.

Telling people that they’ve got it all wrong is a non-starter if what we’re trying to do is bring people to Jesus. We simply leave the impression that Christians are a joyless, judgmental lot. Shaking our heads and clucking our tongues at someone’s preemptive Christmas decorations will serve only to convince him or her that they are better off being spiritual and not religious.

Am I suggesting that we should forsake our own rhythms of the Church Year? Hardly! We who follow Christ will maintain our practices and find inspiration, comfort, and meaning by doing so. Instead of telling others to stop what they are doing, we can be intentional about our own Advent and Christmastide patterns of worship, study, and acts of mercy. Invite others to join us on the Sundays of Advent, in Advent wreath making, in Lessons and Carols, and in service projects designed to relieve the suffering of others.

Share the joy and peace! They are immensely attractive. The joy and peace that we know draw people because they come from a reliable, inexhaustible source and endure through good times and bad. Jesus is the source of our sense of significance and security, vitality and fulfillment. And this can be an especially fruitful time to draw people into relationship with him.

In Christ’s Love,


The Rt. Rev. Jacob W. Owensby, Ph.D.
The Diocese of Western Louisiana
P. O. Box 2031, Alexandria, LA 71309-2031