Beloved American Baptists,
As I write this my last Christmas greeting to you as General Secretary my heart overflows in gratitude for you all. As your face to the wider church and to the world, I have had the honor of representing you before presidents and prime ministers, princes, popes, and patriarchs, congress persons and members of parliament. Through those experiences I have come to know how respected our witness and role in the world is because of our long history as a voice on behalf of religious liberty, human rights and peace through interfaith dialogue. Thank you for the privilege of representing Christ through you.
As General Secretary I had a wonderful foundation set for me through the ministries of our previous general secretaries: Ruben Nelson, Ed Tuller, Robert Campbell, and Dan Weiss. Each helped American Baptists speak to the challenges of their eras and live as a community rooted in Christ Jesus. For each, we are grateful.
In the course of the tragic, no – horrific, events of this past year that have shaken us domestically and internationally, a fantasy has played through my mind. I have imagined Christians standing on the streets of their communities saying to any and all who pass by, “Don’t be afraid.”
Would we be taken for absolute fools? Would people begin to walk away from us fearing us? Probably. But it would be an interesting experiment, would it not?
Truth be told, we live that experiment every Advent and Christmas. Into fearful hearts barren of hope, the angels whisper anew, “Fear not.”
How easy in pain and fear it is to scoff at their proclamation and angrily hurl back, “Liars!” I don’t imagine it was so terribly different in Bethlehem.
Yet, how the world hungers for the hope of peace, for the presence of shalom! Even our most secular neighbors find in Christmas a haven from the world as it is, and they taste for a brief moment the sweetness of what is possible because of the birth of a child, wrapped in swaddling clothes, laid in a manger.
That brief moment can become a lifetime of hope through faith in what God is up to in the babe of Bethlehem, the carpenter of Nazareth, the crucified and risen Son of God. In and through him a new age is dawning and we taste it through our life in him even now. We fear not because in Christ our hope is secure. We fear not because Christ is our peace. We fear not because Christ is our assurance that God is for, not against us; for, not against humanity; for, not against creation. We fear not because in the baby of Bethlehem dwells the purest of loves.
“In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. (Luke 2: 8-11 – NRSV)
Rev. Dr. A. Roy Medley
General Secretary, American Baptist Churches USA