ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson's 2004 Christmas Message

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. (Luke 2: 15-18, NRSV)

The shepherds were amazed by God’s messengers—and then became them! Not that anyone in Bethlehem would have confused that dusty crew with the glorious angelic host, but the shepherds carried the angels’ message as they left the manger: the wondrous news of the birth of the Messiah and the astonishing announcement of peace on earth. Throughout their world, the seemingly insignificant shepherds declared the same glorious words as the angel Gabriel. Yes, they were still in the world with all its suffering and ambiguity, all its division and injustice. Yes, they were still liable to every human weakness and fault. But now they had a clear part to play in God’s story. They had something spectacular to tell. Their voices joined a larger—and heavenly—chorus.

Best of all, this news is a very present wonder. The promised child is born to us this day. God comes down—in the Word made flesh—bringing life to all. To hear this news is to risk being changed. The faith to believe it and the courage to retell it means profound conversion.

As we gather this Christmas in our congregations, families, and communities to hear the wondrous story, we also can be amazed by God’s messengers—and then become them. Yes, we are still in the world with all its suffering and ambiguity, all its division and injustice. Yes, we are still liable to every human weakness and fault. But we, too, have a clear part to play in God’s story. We have something spectacular to tell. Our voices join a larger—and heavenly—chorus. Receiving God’s love in the Word made flesh, how can we keep from singing? How can we keep from going into every corner of our lives and world to proclaim the Good News? The Word does its amazing work not only in us but surely through us. Yes, even us!

How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.” (Isaiah 52:7 NRSV)

In God’s grace,

The Rev. Mark S. Hanson
Presiding Bishop
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America