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Bishop Hagiya’s Christmas Message 2019

2019 has been a rough year for all of us. Nationally, we have been so polarized and divided. Red versus blue, liberals versus conservatives, we seem to disagree about everything: impeachment, foreign policy, immigration and gun control. Religiously, we have seen these same divisions in our United Methodist context: Progressives versus Traditionalists, Biblical literalists versus contextual critics, we are at an impasse over the question of LBGTQI inclusion or exclusion and it is threatening to split our denomination. Globally, we cannot agree on fundamental policies that threaten our whole planet like climate change, even when the earth reacts in natural ways of protest: hurricanes, fires and droughts.

Because of such fundamental disagreements and conflicts, we are in a state that some have described as “liquid, liminal, or uproar.” We are in a period of massive disruption, dislocation and disassociation and because of this people are acting irrationally, emotionally, and angrily. The family systems thinkers tell us when we are in such distress, we resort to our ancestral primitive brain stems that trigger the instantaneous “flight, freeze or fight” response, and needless to say, we have seen this acted out on a regular basis in our daily lives.

These family systems experts also tell us that we need to counter this reaction through the mature non-anxious leader who brings a sense of calm and rationality into any system. We need to model this leadership as church representatives, and it describes Jesus at his very best. As the incarnate Living God, Jesus represents the divine maturity and rationality that creates and sustains the whole cosmos.

It is easy to make the leap that Jesus represents the lone Savior that will get us out of all of our divisions, problems and crises, but that is not what Jesus offers us. Jesus does not offer us solutions to our myriad of problems, but rather a way of life and being that allows us to deal with our situations in a positive and constructive way.

Recently, I saw the movie: “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” that characterized the life of Fred Rogers (Mr. Rogers) effect on one troubled individual. It wasn’t that Fred Rogers solved the main character’s problems with family relationships, but he modeled a way of being that allowed the best to emerge from this one person, and showed us through relationship building, we can be better people: one person at a time. The fact that Fred Rogers was an Ordained Minister is instructive for us. He read the Bible and prayed regularly, but that alone was not the reason for his greatness. It was the fact that he lived his biblical and theological beliefs, and this made all the difference in his own life and to those he encountered.

The same is true of our Jesus – if we can merely act out what Jesus modeled and taught us we can make this world a better place. We can make each other better. We can make life better.

This is why this Advent Season is so important for us and why we need to dwell on the symbolic birth of our Savior once again. It cannot be for us “just another Christmas story like every year,” but rather the birth of Jesus can be born in us, truly a “new birth” that will make us new, different and transformed.

Amid the world’s great problems, divisions and conflicts, we are given another chance by God to create a new story for humanity and the world. We are given the chance to change and be better.

“For unto us is born on this day in the city of David, a Savior who is Christ the Lord”
(Luke 2: 11)

Praise be to God!

Be the Hope,

Bishop Grant J. Hagiya
Los Angeles Area Resident Bishop