December 21, 2016
Beloved Brothers and Sisters,
What do you think of when you hear the phrase “a culture of life”? That phrase, made most famous by Pope John Paul II, implies creating a world where we cherish the lives of the most vulnerable among us and then help them to thrive. At Resurrection, we believe that a culture of life starts with defending unborn children and their mothers and fathers. But it cannot stop there. To be pro-life—to create a culture of life as opposed to a culture of death—also compels us to put our convictions into action.
During this Advent season, we have highlighted one way we create a culture of life—by supporting the fathers and mothers of our church’s Replanted ministry. They have heroically responded to God’s call to adopt or to serve as adoptive or foster parents.It’s not too late to show our your love and appreciation by choosing a gift of love for these parents: you can do so here.
Following our Advent season, we will be focusing on the unborn. January 15 will be our Sanctity of Life Sunday, and Pastor Matt Woodley will be preaching on “The High Call of Radical Hospitality,” which I believe is a key component of creating a culture of life. I would also encourage you to mark your calendars now for some very special events this January:
People from all walks of life and all across the Midwest will march together in downtown Chicago. Join with thousands of others as we march to defend and protect human life. A chartered bus will depart from the church at 12:30pm. For more information and to reserve a seat, visit the event page.
If you or someone you love has lost an infant—perhaps through a miscarriage, a stillbirth, or an abortion—come or invite your friend to this service. We want to acknowledge the depth of these losses by providing a safe place to grieve and find renewed hope. This service will be open to the public.
I pray that all of us will respond to Jesus’ call to love the helpless in this new year. May Christ, who first came to us as an infant, fill you with his joy and peace.
Bishop Stewart Ruch III
December 18, 2016
Be it unto me as you have said:
may my heartbeat be his ocean
even as my veins run wet with rain
that he spoke into existence.
Be it unto me as you have said:
that the Word Himself will cry out
for my embrace in the dark
which in the beginning, he named Night.
Be it unto me as you have said:
thus my hands will guide his first step
on the green earth that is turning
safely in the curve of his palm.
Be upon me, be within me,
be over me, be beside me,
be, grow, walk, God:
I am the servant of the Lord.
Advent is a season of pregnancy. It begins a new church year, which walks through the story of Jesus’ life. But when we begin, we don’t start with Jesus' birth. We start by expecting. We start with conception—his coming as conceived by the prophets. Then, the fourth and final Sunday of Advent culminates with the sudden appearance of a celestial messenger to a Jewish girl, bearing the promise of a baby boy. This last Sunday belongs to Mary, and her story is the icon by which we learn to say yes to God.
In Luke's Gospel, he tells us that when the veil between what is seen and what is unseen is snatched away before Mary’s eyes, she is greatly troubled. But she doesn’t run. The angel says that she will have a son. To bear a son in the ancient Middle East was a sign of honor, even success. But certainly not before marriage. It’s perilous, this promise. It’s not without pain.
Who will believe me? she may have wondered. “How will this be?” she asks Gabriel. As a Jew, Mary would have prayed for the advent of the Messiah—the one who God promised would come and save her people from suffering. But to be the vessel by which he emerges into the world? “One day,” was here, and it didn’t look like she expected.
Gabriel tells her more: "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you." Scholars tell us that the word translated as overshadow is the same word used for the holy presence of God that dwelled within the Jewish temple. Mary was going to be a temple, her womb the Holy of Holies—the sanctum where the very presence of God resides.
Then, comes the part in Luke’s story where my breath snags every single time—Mary’s yes. “Behold,” she says, "I am the servant of the Lord: let it be to me according to your word.”
She doesn’t ask any more questions. She says yes before she knows what her intended husband is going to say. She says yes to being ostracized, to nausea and sore feet and labor, to sleepless nights, to utter mystery, and to unfathomable blessing. She says yes to God. Her yes is a step out of her known reality, setting foot into virgin territory. No one can tell her what is going to happen. Her faith is astonishing. I’m a woman, not too much older than Mary might have been. What answer would I have given?
Maybe we have not seen an angel, but we are offered the promise of Christ all the same. Mary’s yes is a picture of the yes that we can give, too. The church fathers call Mary the first Christian (Christ-in), as she was the first to have Christ within her. If you have said yes to Jesus, like Mary did, you are called to bear him within you and bring him into the world, like Mary did. And just like Mary, your circumstances will be less than ideal. Things will be against you. There won’t be any epidural for the painful process of surrendering your body to God. There wasn't any room in the hotels when God’s mother arrived to Bethlehem, sweating and swollen. I think God could have convinced the innkeeper, if that had been his will—hadn’t Mary been through enough, riding on a swaybacked donkey over rocks, scandalously huge with a baby that’s not her husband's? But Mary had made room for Jesus in her body, and she was willing to bleed for him on the filthy ground if that’s what God’s promise of salvation meant. She would one day watch him bleed on a filthy cross.
May we give that kind of yes to God. May we prepare him room within our hearts, our bodies, within our very lives. May we go to the stable, and then to the cross, believing his promises, saying yes when it makes no sense, when it hurts, when it leads into the unknown. May we surrender ourselves to him this Advent, that we may be vessels of his deliverance, bringing him into the world. And like Mary, may they say of us, “Blessed are they who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to them from the Lord.” Come, Lord Jesus.