A new dawn of hope
Christmas Message 2013 from the World Council of Churches general secretary
In New Testament accounts of the Nativity, humble shepherds watch their flocks by night while wise scholars, travelling in the east, look up at the same night’s sky and discern something new amid the rotation of stars. They were all open for a move, to see something, someone that brings hope for the world.
The night is a time for contemplation of days gone by, for expectations and to be ready for what God may bring at the new dawn.
John the evangelist begins this story before sunrise on the very first day, In the beginning, we are told, the Word was with God, and the Word was God – the Word of life and light, the eternal Word that continues to shine and shall never be overcome by darkness.
The gospel of Luke relates a series of narratives leading to Jesus’ birth. Early in the telling, Zechariah - the father of John the Baptist - utters a prophecy, a soaring song of hope concluding with these words:
By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace. (Luke 1:78-79)
In Holy Scripture, light is a symbol of God’s guidance on our pilgrimage of faith:
Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. (Psalm 119:105)
In all honesty, we mortals need to be led by God to find the way to peace and justice, reconciliation and life in abundance. We need the lamp of God’s word to guide our feet in God’s ways.
And so, at the recent 10th Assembly of the World Council of Churches in Busan, Republic of Korea, we joined our voices in the recurring prayer that was the assembly’s theme: “God of life, lead us to justice and peace.”
One of the images we carry with us from Busan is that of a pilgrimage. We travelled symbolically in services of common prayer, workshops and institutional deliberations, and we engaged in actual journeys through weekend explorations across the length and breadth of the Republic of Korea, from southern shores to the verges of the deceptively named “demilitarized zone” between South and North Korea.
We realized that the way to justice and peace must overcome the boundary at the heart of Korea, as well as the many walls of hostility that divide nations, cultures, classes and families. As an Assembly, we expressed particular concern for displaced persons, refugees and migrants, for regions such as the Middle East and the Great Lakes region, particularly Congo, in Africa, and we condemned the politicization of religion as a means of attempting to justify violence.
Most of all, we have issued an invitation to all people of good will to join us in the pilgrimage to Just Peace throughout the earth. We intend to move together, and in our common journey to display unity and love for one another.
We are inspired by the shepherds and the wise to seek the Prince of Peace in unexpected places, even in what might be seen as the “wrong” places.
May the blessings of Christmastide be with you, and may the dawn from on high break forth upon the whole world,
Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit
World Council of Churches