Bishop L. Jonathan Holston, resident bishop of the South Carolina Conference of The United Methodist Church, shares this Christmas message of hope for South Carolina United Methodists amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic:
“In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” – John 1:4-5 (NIV)
At the end of what has seemed to be a year of uncertainty, fear, division and hostility, the Christmas season could easily become just one more reason to be anxious.
We seem to make the same Christmas pledge every year, but perhaps 2020 is the year we follow through: Slow down. Step back. Truly anticipate with joy the coming of our Savior. Appreciate what the saving grace of Jesus has meant in our lives.
Perhaps this is the year we choose to be like the humble shepherd, awestruck by the messenger of God, yet inspired to share the good news with anyone who will listen.
Perhaps this is the year we emulate the Magi, our hearts filled with joy at the sight of the star of Bethlehem, yet humbled, reverent and adoring in the presence of the King of Kings.
Perhaps this is the year we finally take that breath, find a quiet place, pause to ponder the magnitude of the gift God gave us – and the hope the Prince of Peace brings to us in our darkest hour.
We know that, with the recent resurgence in the number of reported COVID-19 cases in our state, many local church leaders are grappling anew with the question of whether to gather for Christmas Eve or Christmas Day services – some of the most anticipated worship experiences of the Christian year. Please know that I support you in making the best decisions for your congregation as you care for one another.
Should you decide not to gather in-person on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, I strongly encourage you to continue to use technology to maintain connection within your congregation and community – whether that means live-streaming your services, sharing recorded sermons or devotionals, or tapping in to the services of other United Methodist churches from around the conference. We have recorded a Christmas Eve service that is available for you to download and share with your congregation, or you are invited to join us on Facebook at 8 p.m. Dec. 24.
Should you decide to gather in person for worship on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, I strongly encourage you to review and follow the guidance found in our Best Practices for In-Person Gatherings. These updated guidelines are the product of prayer, research and ongoing conversations with public health officials and church leaders. If you hold in-person worship, please consider how to continue to include those who cannot attend or who choose not to attend in person by continuing to offer access to worship online, through social media, or by other remote options.
My friends, our Christmas worship will look different this year, there is no doubting that. But no amount of change or physical separation can keep us from the joy and excitement of remembering Christ’s birth and the anticipation of Christ’s return.
My prayer for you this Christmas is that God will fill you with all joy and peace so that you may overflow with hope through the Holy Spirit. And may we all remember and practice the guidance the apostle Paul shared with the anxious church in Rome:
“Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.” – Romans 12:10-13 NIV)
Grace and peace,
L. Jonathan Holston