The Rt. Rev. J. Russell Kendrick, Bishop of the Central Gulf Coast, writes in his email newsletter, From the Bishop’s Chair:
Just over two weeks ago I made my annual visit to St. Andrew’s in Panama City. During a parish forum, I asked folks to share stories about what they’ve encountered and if/when did they encounter the presence and power of God. One person told of being amazed by seeing stars in the sky because there were no longer trees or electrical lights to hinder the view. More than a few commented on the incredible generosity of strangers. One woman spoke about the power of being together in church the Sunday following the storm.
The story that has stayed with me is the one told by a man about his neighbor with whom he had feuded for years. They had argued about petty things, like dogs messing up a yard, and children inadvertently crossing property lines. So in order to avoid each other, a big fence was built. Each planted trees and shrubs to further block their view to each other’s property.
Then, on the 10th of October, with one powerful swoop of wind, the fence was gone and so too the trees. The man said, “When the fence was gone, we had to learn to live together. It was that same neighbor who let me plug an electrical cord into his generator. He gave me a pallet of bottled water. When the fence came down, we learned to become friends.”
As I return again to our annual commemoration of the birth of our Savior, I am struck by this phrase, “when the fence came down, we learned to become friends.” It reminds me of a much more ancient story of incredible strength, undying confidence, and deep faith. “And the Word became flesh and lived among us.”
Christmas is about the God who has come among us in the most unexpected way. Eugene Peterson’s The Message paraphrases it:
The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.
We saw the glory with our own eyes,
the one-of-a-kind glory,
like Father, like Son, generous inside and out,
true from start to finish.
God has moved into the neighborhood. In the incarnation, the fence between heaven and earth has come down revealing to us the God of eternal, absolute love who seeks to know us as one of us. On Christmas, God has chosen to come into the world to forge a radically new relationship with us — the friendship that we know as grace. Each year we are invited to return again to Bethlehem, and be born anew into this relationship.
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