At the recent WCC Assembly in Karlsruhe, which reflected on the love of Christ that moves the world to reconciliation and unity, the moving and challenging question of a Muslim guest who addressed the delegates remained deep in my heart: “Is the love of Christ for Christians alone or it is also for me?”
The joyful message of the first Christmas states that the love of God in Christ is meant indeed for all people, for the whole of creation. During the night when Jesus was born, an angel appears to shepherds who live in the fields and watch over their flock. The shepherds are frightened. The angel tells them, “do not be afraid!” and adds, “I bring you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born . . . a Saviour.” Then many angels proclaim to the humble shepherds glory to God in the highest and on earth peace and goodwill toward people.
Our time is a time of fear. Some fear for the survival of future generations or the submersion of their home islands because of the climate emergency we are experiencing. Many are afraid today that they will no longer be able to feed their children tomorrow. Others are afraid that military conflicts may cause nuclear disasters. In our age of social networks, fear is leading to increasing hate speech, to a proliferation of conspiracy theories, violations of human rights, and threats to democracy.
The encouraging words of the angel – “do not be afraid!” – reflect the ancient Christian teaching that faith and love drive out fear. The angel of the first Christmas called the shepherds to have faith in the divine promise of peace on earth and God’s goodwill towards humanity.
The words of the angel are addressed to you and to me today: “Do not be afraid!” The promise of the angels is addressed to you and to me today: “Peace on earth and good will toward people!” As we welcome this promise, God’s Spirit makes us people of good will.
Who are people of good will? As Christians we are aware and confess that our very call and vocation as Christ’s disciples is to be people of good will, agents of reconciliation, and peacemakers, living out Christ’s love for the world. People of good will are also people of other faiths or people of no religion who share today in this compassionate love for their neighbours and especially for the most vulnerable, and live out in their daily lives the values of the kingdom. They are those from different ethnic backgrounds and cultures, who seek to live simply for the sake of the preservation and renewal of the whole creation. They are those who affirm today the dignity of every human being and resist the sins of Christian nationalism, racism, and xenophobia. They are our companions on the pilgrimage of justice, reconciliation, and unity.
As we welcome the beautiful message of the first Christmas, God’s Spirit calls us to become agents of reconciliation in the places we live. Ours is a time of growing polarization in family life, local communities, churches, and nations; tensions that produce conflict and trauma.
At the first Christmas, God came to us in Jesus of Nazareth that we may be reconciled with God and become servants of reconciliation. With all good wishes for a blessed Christmas season, we invite you to welcome in faith and love the angels’ promise of peace on earth, and to live as a pilgrim on the path to justice, reconciliation, and unity.
Rev. Prof. Dr Ioan Sauca
acting general secretary
World Council of Churches