“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness—on them light has shined. You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy… For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:2-3,6).
In the name of the Executive Committee of the International Lutheran Council (ILC) and its Executive Secretary, I send you warm greetings for the 2013 Christmas season and the coming New Year. Grace and peace be with you.
The Old Testament Prophet Isaiah tells us about “people who walked in darkness.” Looking back to on the past year, I can see a lot of such darkness. My brother from the Coptic Orthodox Church in Germany, Bishop Anba Damian, reported with tears in his eyes the persecutions of Christian congregations in Egypt. So too, we heard of violence against Christian churches in Nigeria; we keep our partner Lutheran Church there in prayer.
We also witnessed the terrible typhoon in the Philippines. As we know, our partner church in that nation has suffered as a result; many of our sisters and brothers have lost their homes and church buildings. The International Lutheran Council is responding to their needs, and I encourage you to support the Philippines along with us.
And there has been more darkness this past year, as conflicts afflict church bodies around the world—conflicts, for example, on the theological and spiritual understanding of family and human sexuality. And the darkness reaches closer still, into our own hearts and minds, as conflicts arise in our own families and congregations.
I remember it clearly: when I was a child I feared the darkness. And in our northern hemisphere, we have darkness for a long period of the year. It made everyone happy to light a candle and kindle a lamp. In the same way, one of my friends speaks of his need to visit his old native country in Africa: “The sun shines there so directly on my head,” as he says.
The prophet Isaiah announced: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness—on them light has shined.” In faith, we know that this great light is no one else than our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, laying himself down in a lowly manger.
He is burdening himself with our guilt. He is taking our sickness and sufferings upon his shoulders. He is the Truth, soaking in all our struggles. He is the “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”
In recent days, I saw the picture of a chalice for the Holy Supper. On the base of this chalice, there is a manger with the new born baby and St. Mary and Joseph.
This chalice preaches to us. It reminds us that the great light which shines in the darkness is not far from us. It shines, whenever the Word becomes Flesh during the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. Christmas happens at the altar! The church becomes a barn; the plate and the chalice become a manger. And the pulpit becomes the place for modern-day shepherds to stand and “make known what had been told them about this child” (Luke 2:17). In our churches, the light of Christmas becomes bright in our lives!
We have also seen, in recent times, the bright ministry of the “Prince of Peace” at work in the world. I remember, for example, the reconciliation which took place in the Lutheran Church of the Philippines just over a year ago. I recall also the valuable talks between the executives of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) and the International Lutheran Council (ILC) which took place Wittenberg just this November. And I think too of the talks between the Roman Catholic Church’s Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (PCPCU) and the ILC delegation which recently met in Rome—and the upcoming international discussions which will take place as a result of that meeting. These are signs of light amidst the darkness of our world.
May the eternal light, Jesus Christ, make bright your darkness, both now at Christmas as well as throughout the coming new year!
+ Hans-Jörg Voigt, Bishop of the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church in Germany and Chairman of the International Lutheran Council