Dear People of the Diocese of New Jersey,
Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and you shall name him Emmanuel which means “God with us.” Matthew1:23
Advent is upon us. What does this mean to you? In a wonderful volume of seasonal reflections titled Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas (Farmington, PA: The Plough Publishing House of the Bruderhof Foundation, 2001) the editors write:
“Though Advent (literally ‘arrival’) has been observed for centuries as a time to contemplate Christ’s birth, most people today acknowledge it only with a blank look. For the vast majority of us, December flies by in a flurry of activities, and what is called “the holiday season” turns out to be the most stressful time of year. It is also a time of contrasting emotions. We are eager, yet frazzled; sentimental, yet indifferent. One minute we glow at the thought of getting together with our family and friends; the next we feel utterly lonely. Our hope is mingled with dread, our anticipation with despair. We sense the deeper meanings of the season, but grasp at them in vain; and in the end, all the bustle leaves us frustrated and drained…”
“We sense the deeper meanings of the season, but grasp at them in vain.” I love all of the glitz and tinsel, department store Santa Clauses and the rest of the color and brightness that goes along with commercial Christmas. It’s fun and bright and delights the senses. Nonetheless, I recognize that the true meaning of Christmas is not to be found in Macy’s, Nordstrom or the Quaker Bridge Mall. The true meaning of Christmas is to be found in Bethlehem at the feet of the Christ child, light shining in the darkness. Arriving in Bethlehem requires spiritual discipline: time for prayer and reflection. It calls us to join with the faithful in church as we hear the aching words of the prophets longing for a savior, as we sing the hymns of hope and expectation, as we build our creches week by week. The Church’s observance of Advent is a means by which we mark holy time and prepare for Bethlehem in an intentional way that is rich with symbols, deep in meaning and significant for our lives.
This Advent, I want to encourage all the people of the Diocese of New Jersey to invite someone new to church.Research indicates that many people who once went to church didn’t stop attending because they were angry (though certainly some did). Most just got out of the habit. Many would welcome an invitation to return. A lot of people today are hungry for a vibrant relationship with a living God. They long to be part of a caring community of people who share similar values and experiences. They yearn for a Christmas that is rich in meaning and alive with the birth of Christ, here, now, today. I encourage you to show your care and love for family, friends and neighbors who aren’t part of a church community. Say to them, Come back to church this Advent: reconnect with the true meaning of Christmas! I am confident that accepting your invitation will allow them to receive a gift that is priceless – the birth anew of Christ in their hearts and new joy in their lives.
May you and yours have a holy Advent marked by joyous waiting for Christ.
The Right Reverend William H. (Chip) Stokes, D.D., Bishop of New Jersey