A Letter from the General Minister to Pittsburgh Presbytery
With Unbounded Gladness
January 3, 2019
One of our treasured Epiphany hymns, “As with Gladness Men of Old,” enjoins us to enter the delighted wonder of the ancient Magi. They didn’t know where they were going – do we? They followed a sense of call that bore much uncertainty – don’t we? Yet they moved forward “with gladness.”
Why be glad, enveloped as we are by a world where much is in disarray and our security is highly uncertain? Gladness seems foolish at best, dangerous at worst, when we find ourselves enmeshed in a social order that has precious little inclination to “do that which is right and good.” (Deuteronomy 6:18) Being wary and taking care of ourselves seem more important to us in such a climate, something our New Year’s resolutions demonstrate in spades.
Yet Epiphany extends a clarion call: Be glad! God is with us, God will deliver us, all shall be well! When Jesus came to dwell among us, God declared unambiguously, “I am with you” – no matter who you are or what you do. Emmanuel, God with us. Not because we have earned it, but because God has so ordained it. Nothing in the world can take this away from us, as Paul so eloquently rhapsodizes: “Neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39) Be glad, be very glad, all who look to Christ as Savior!
As those who receive with gladness God’s claim on us, we have a glad message to share with those around us. This is the church’s joyous calling, to share the good news that God cares so much for the human race that nothing can separate us from God’s love. In a world riven by hostility, division, and separation, and all the desperation that results, the message of Epiphany is more critically needed than ever.
Epiphany! God appears! God appeared to us definitively in the coming of Jesus, and God continues to appear to us in ways great and small, if only we have eyes to see. When God appears, we cannot but join the Magi in bending low and bearing gifts in glad gratitude that God would see fit to come to us and inseparably remain with us.
Most of the prognosticators of 2019 that I have read are less than ebullient over its prospects. Festering conflicts around the planet continue to suck the life out of peoples, regions, and nations. The world’s wealth is increasingly contested, fueling possibilities of unprecedented economic collapse. Historic civic, political, and religious institutions must change or they will die. Governance, from local to national to international horizons, will be hobbled by increasing gridlock. So the prognosticators say for 2019.
How can we be glad in such a situation as this? Is our gladness delusional, yet another piece of evidence that religion is nothing more than an opiate, as Karl Marx contended?
Abundantly not! Worldly wars and kingdoms and prosperity come and go, but God remains steadfastly faithful. The God we know in Christ never leaves us, never forsakes us. Be glad! God’s love for us prevails against all that would seek to obliterate it or render it ineffective. Be glad! As those who have been claimed by God in Christ, we have the awesome privilege and joy of sharing the good news of God’s love with a world reeling from disasters, persecutions, injustice, thievery, and so much more. Be glad!
Will we in 2019 enter that gladness fully, proclaiming joyfully the Good News wherever God has placed us? The opportunity is there, ready for us to seize, if only we will!
Yours in Epiphany gladness,
The Rev. Dr. Sheldon W. Sorge, General Minister
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