A Special Christmas Message from the Bishops

December 21, 2022

During a recent time of devotion, those of us in attendance were encouraged to meditate on the words of one of the great Advent hymns of the church, In the Bleak Midwinter, written by Christina Georgina Rossetti in 1872.

In the bleak midwinter
Frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone:
Snow had fallen,
Snow on snow, snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter, Long ago.

In silence, we reflected on the words of this hymn with great intensity. As a result of this reflection, the miracle of the birth of Jesus and the urgency of our response to his birth became more relevant.

If the meteorologists are correct, the weather this Christmas in Central and Western Pennsylvania will be bleak. The winds will be so chilling that humans and trees will moan. Many of our smaller creeks will become hard as stone. All of us will have some snow, but for those above I-80, it will be snow upon snow.

If the economists, epidemiologists and psychologists are correct, our current existence in this region is bleak. Some say we are on the brink of a recession that will be exacerbated by our current supply chain issues. Influenza, respiratory syncytial virus and COVID are infecting our region at astounding rates. Mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and substance abuse are wreaking havoc in our communities. Various synthetic drugs such as fentanyl are killing our children at alarming rates. Gun violence associated with the illegal drug trade continues to be staggering.

Today we are literally and figuratively experiencing the ”bleak midwinter”. It is easy to be overwhelmed by the bleakness of our world. Yet, scripture reminds us that the one whose birth we celebrate brought a light into the world that cannot be overcome by the darkness or bleakness of this world. (John 1:5)

Looking to and celebrating the Light of the World does not disregard our current circumstances. In fact, acknowledging the bleakness of this world makes the birth of Jesus even more miraculous! The baby Jesus, born to a poor carpenter and a teenage mother in a lowly stable, is the One who would save the world. What a miracle! Jesus’ very being transformed the desolate setting of his birth into a majestic scene that was and is revered. He is the one who chose to be with us today – Immanuel, God with us in the midst of a bleak winter!

One hundred fifty years ago Christina Rossetti wrote the poem/hymn that speaks to us today, reminding us it was into this bleak world of ours God sent God’s only son. Through imagery and metaphor Rossetti reminds us Jesus is more powerful than heaven or anything on earth. She reminds us that all of creation – ox and ass and camel, cherubim and seraphim – recognized and paid homage to the baby Jesus who was born in a stable. And her hymn begs us to consider what we will do to pay homage to Jesus.

Whatever bleakness you may be experiencing this year, however cold it might get outside, remember God is with you through the baby Jesus. There isn’t any darkness that cannot be dispelled by the light of Jesus. Remember Jesus gives you power to overcome the bleakness of this world and that power is realized when you give Jesus your heart. That is how we join with all creation and pay homage to Jesus – giving him our heart is our part to do each and every day.

It is in the giving of our hearts to Jesus that gives us the power to demonstrate hope, joy, and peace in the world. It is our demonstration of hope, joy, and peace that draws people to the love of God. And it is God’s love that literally and spiritually saves.

What shall I give Jesus, poor in spirit as I am? This Christmas, I give him my heart!

Peace and Blessings,

Bishop Cynthia Moore-Koikoi  Bishop Sandra Steiner Ball