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A Bishop's Advent message in 2005

by Bishop Susan Murch Morrison

…And she gave birth to her first-born son
And wrapped him in swaddling clothes
And laid him in a manger, because
There was no room for them in the inn.

The stories continue to spill out regarding individuals and communities impacted by this fall's season of earthquakes and hurricanes. One that stays with me particularly is about the destruction of Gulfside, a United Methodist retreat center in Waveland, Mississippi. It is a place of particular importance to our African-American brothers and sisters. As the Reverend Gil Caldwell writes,

I must admit that when I read (about it), the report brought tears to my eyes…I know it is difficult to understand the loss of buildings when those buildings have no meaning (to you)…but Gulfside, during the bittersweet days of Central Jurisdiction (and segregation), was a place that was our place…we (African Americans) could not stay in hotels or eat
in restaurants or use rest rooms, thus we would travel and travel until we came to the oasis on the Gulf, Gulfside…

All the images that come to us through our news sources can disturb, cause questioning, rock the status quo, can even make us wonder about the way things are…or are not. As a statement put out by our Board of Church and Society says:

The wind and waters that battered the Gulf States stripped away our collective blindness to the plight of the poor and marginalized among us, and awakened us anew to the challenges of those suffering the silent and deadly storms of poverty and racism.

As I meditate on the upcoming Advent and Christmas seasons, I find images of these past weeks and images of our own journeys mingling with images from the nativity story.

As Mary and Joseph traveled looking for a safe space to spend the night and birth a child,
     so African-Americans traveled to Gulfside to find a safe and welcoming space,
     so refugees and immigrants travel to find a safe space to create a home and future,
     so people struggling through illness and pain travel to a safe place called faith to frame a sense of hope,
     so isolated and broken folk travel to a safe space called church to find community,
     so our kin will travel during these next weeks to find a safe place called family to celebrate God's presence among us.

Just as there was "no room in the inn",
     being born outside expectations,
     being born outside the status quo,
     being born outside the right procedures,
     being born outside white privilege,
     being born outside the ability to influence power,
     being born outside safe medical care and good nutrition,
     being born outside a nurturing and loving environment,
creates a status of being marginal and vulnerable.

And yet, as God has come to us as an infant,
     means that forever in this world the helpless need to be taken into consideration,
     means that forgiveness becomes part of the fabric of life as all of us must challenge our illusions of what is right or what is wrong,
     means the topsy-turvy quality of events such as we have seen this Fall force us to re-examine our goals because they level all human accomplishments,
     and it means we suspend privileged tax breaks and environmental protections because no one or anything in creation is beyond God's care.

There is a democracy in this nativity story. Position and status are of no importance. All of creation
is included in, from the Wise Ones to the shepherds, from the camels to the sheep, from the angels to the young mother and father. There is wondrous grace and inclusion. We are all set free.

We can respond to what is vulnerable around us because we know there are areas in our own lives where we are helpless, infantile and fragile. For the God of the stable meets us, forgives us, loves us and challenges us to live responsibly on behalf of all creation.

We can respond to the outsider and envelop them into the circle…open hearts, open minds, open doors…because we know there is no room for prejudice or privilege. God creates safe space for all with a welcoming hospitality.

We can journey into the unknown because in the miracle of one baby, Jesus, there is the possibility of the restoration of all of life. That means injustices righted, protests made on behalf of the battered, opening arms to the world's outcasts, speaking out against unjust war, mercy for those imprisoned, health to a struggling environment, simplicity in living where there is abundance, healing where there are scars and pain, and yes, praising God who makes all things possible. So we really can sing,

Star child, earth child, go-between of God,
Love child, Christ Child, heaven's lightning rod,
This year, this year let the day arrive
When Christmas comes for everyone,
Everyone alive.

P.S. During this holiday season, I hope you will join me in taking special offerings and making donations to support the restoration of Gulfside. You may contribute to the Gulfside support by making a donation through The Advance for Christ and His Church. The Advance is an official program of The United Methodist Church for voluntary, designated financial giving. One hundred percent of your donation goes to the Advance ministry you choose. Checks may be written to 'Advance GCFA' and placed in collection plates at United Methodist churches, or mailed directly to: Advance GCFA, P.O. Box 9068, GPO, New York, NY 10087-9068. Credit card donations may be made by calling (888) 252-6174. Online giving -

Bishop Morrison serves the Albany (New York) area of The United Methodist Church. Bishop Morrison serves on the General Board of Church and Society as well as on the Commission on the General Conference. She also acts as the Convener of the Forum for the New York State Council of Churches.


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Date posted: Dec 01, 2005