A Christmas Message from Bishop Paul Leeland

December 17, 2015

December 17, 2015

Friends in Christ,

While children become more excited as Christmas Day approaches, our lives are enriched by the joy and happiness we experience as we share this day with them. The Gospel of Matthew reminds us the crowds “followed” Jesus, and the Pharisees “came up to” him, but the little children were “brought” to him. These innocent, playful, humble children are attracted to Jesus, the One who is “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation,” (Col 1:15), coming to us a child himself. Guerric of Igny, a twelfth-century monk, preached a Christmas sermon on the Nativity in which he said, “Yes, Father, such was your good pleasure – that a Little One should be given to little ones, and he has now been born to us. This Little One is truly understood only by other little ones.”  
What is it these little ones can understand? Their innocence recognizes the true nature of the Kingdom of God – God’s love, God’s Rule, and Influence over our lives. God does not force himself upon us, for this is never the nature of love. Love waits to be received and offered freely. Children are not distracted by having to filter what they hear, as adults so commonly do, as to what is Truth. They simply receive truth as it is shared. The Truth is that God so loved the world that He gave His only Son (John 3:16). As the parents in the Gospel of Matthew bring their children, Jesus offers a new beatitude, “Let the little children come to me … for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 19:14). In this same way, Jesus gives us the beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount, (“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven…Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”) – and once again he repeats the blessing for these children, “To such belongs the kingdom of heaven.”  
Christmas is a moment in which we embrace and remember the Little One, born in a manger, who said, “Let the children come to me…for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” Jesus is the One who declares himself to be the Kingdom of Heaven. We are all children. This Christmas we receive the only Son of God born to Mary. The meaning of this Christmas birth is captured in the lyrics of the Christmas carol, “Do you hear what I hear:” 
The Child, the Child, sleeping in the night
He will bring us goodness and light
He will bring us goodness and light

This Holy Family, Mary and Joseph, offered themselves to God in obedience by saying, “Yes,” and raised Jesus according to God’s will. May we do the same.   
Merry Christmas! “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news” (Mark 1:15).

With Deep Gratitude,
Bishop Paul L. Leeland
Resident Bishop, Alabama-West Florida Conference