Read a Christmas message from ABCUSA General Secretary Dr. C. Jeff Woods, below:
I have always loved Christmas. I enjoy the lights, the food, the gatherings, the music, and especially the season of Advent. As a local church pastor, I relished the opportunity to shepherd a group of people toward the celebration of the birth of Jesus. This year, during Advent, I am focusing upon the concept of “newness.”
Recently, my wife, who has a beautiful voice, joined a local choral group and will be singing in a community presentation of the “Messiah,” as well as a choral presentation of Christmas songs. I am quite excited to hear this “new thing” this December.
Earlier this year, Deidra Riggs provided a consultation on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion for our office staff. In preparation for this event, I read her book entitled, “One: Unity in a Divided World.” In her book, she offers, “For a child, life is new, right? Every experience is new and, if you see something new, you forget you’ve grown up, and the child comes back.”
Part of the benefit of diversity is cultivating the joy of newness. This year, I am trying to view Advent through the eyes of a child. With four grandchildren, I have some wonderful first hand experiences! Deidra Riggs adds, “Stand up on your tiptoes! Expect the unexpected! Live as if it’s always Christmas Eve!”
New things are a part of Christmas. God, however, does not just make new things. “Behold, I make all things new” declares God in Revelation 21:5. Only God can create out of nothing. By helping us see new things, God creates us anew as humans. Such newness requires work on our part as well as faith in God’s ability to create.
I believe that God can make us new both individually and collectively. During my tenure as General Secretary, we adopted six values aimed at creating a new office culture that shape how we go about our work in the Office of the General Secretary: integrity, altruism, interconnectedness, achievement, passion, and creativity. We make decisions according to these values. We plan our events by these values. We evaluate our efforts and our outcomes according to these values. We also celebrate them at our staff gatherings.
During the celebration event for my work as General Secretary, my staff gave me a wiffle ball bat signed by all of the staff. I cherish this gift that is now prominently displayed in our house. Wiffle ball has become a key part of our summer picnic and our life together as staff. At our summer picnic, I created a new set of baseball rules to guide our wiffle ball game. The new set of rules is based upon our values.
Living out our values at our Christmas party will include a rendition of the “Twelve Days of Christmas” complete with noises for each day. It will be a challenge to “achieve” this one! For “altruism,” each person will be asked to write about a gift for another person that cannot be bought. It is those gifts that make us new.
I am living this Advent, looking for the new thing as well as the people who have become new. I trust that God will not disappoint.
Dr. C. Jeff Woods
American Baptist Churches USA