Chairman’s Christmas Pastoral Letter 2015
To the Faithful of the Global Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans and friends
from Archbishop Eliud Wabukala, Primate of Kenya and Chairman of the GAFCON Primates’ Council
‘For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour who is Christ the Lord. ‘
My dear brothers and sisters,
Receive Christian greetings in the name of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, Saviour and Lord.
As our Christmas celebrations begin, I pray that familiar words, hymns and customs will by God’s grace kindle in our hearts a new sense of wonder and thankfulness for the gift of Emmanuel, God with us.
At Christmas we think of Jesus as the helpless baby lying on a bed of straw. Yet ‘He is before all things, and in him all things hold together’ (Colossians 1:17) and the Jesus we worship now is not the baby of Bethlehem but the risen Christ glimpsed in the vision of John in the first chapter of Revelation whose face is like the sun in its full brilliance (Revelation 1:16). This is the glorified Jesus who will be revealed to all as Lord, Saviour and Judge at the end of human history.
So if we think of Jesus as Saviour, we must also therefore confess him as Christ the Lord. Here in the Anglican Church of Kenya it is common for preachers to introduce themselves by saying that they have accepted Jesus as their personal Saviour. That is so important. Jesus is indeed a wonderful Saviour, but we must not limit his work just to our personal experience. He is the central figure in all human life and history, whether he is recognised or not, and what marks out the Christian is a life that witnesses now, in word and deed, that Jesus is Christ the Lord. If that is lacking, a personal testimony from the past is empty words.
To confess Jesus as Lord brings hope and strength into the most challenging situations. For example, our neighbours in the Episcopal Church of South Sudan and Sudan have shown us what it looks like to witness to Jesus as Lord in the statement issued from their recent House of Bishops meeting.
They are able to sustain hope in continuing to call for peace, unity and love in their two nations despite the trauma of years of suffering and civil war and they courageously call to account those who would rather give children bullets and guns than pencils and paper.
But at the centre of this hope is Jesus, so they also recognise that the church must guard the gospel which alone can bring lasting change to the hearts of men and women. If Jesus is Lord, then he must govern our relationships through his word and the bishops agreed that their Church should break its ties with the Episcopal Church of the Unites States (TEC) following that Church’s decision to change its canons and its liturgy to allow for ‘gender neutral marriage’. For the same reasons, the Anglican Church of Kenya also affirmed that it was no longer in relationship with TEC at our Provincial Synod earlier this year.
The clarity and courage of these brothers is an encouragement to me as we prepare for the meeting of Primates called by the Archbishop of Canterbury next month (www.gafcon.org/crossroads). With many others, I long to see our beloved Communion united and its divisions healed, but this must be in a way that truly honours Jesus as Lord and head of his body, the Church. It is easy to be like parents who by false kindness allow their children to follow destructive patterns of behaviour, but we are called to care for the household of God, to guard the gospel of grace and to preach the word ‘in season and out of season’ (2 Timothy 4:2).
So as we look beyond Christmas to the New Year, let our lives be lived in true devotion to Jesus as Lord. To confess with the first Christians that ‘Jesus is Lord’ is a comfort and a challenge. It is a comfort because we know that we are under his protection and that as Lord of the Church, he will not let the powers of darkness triumph despite our sin and brokenness. It is a challenge because it is a call to a love for Jesus which is stronger than the love of a comfortable life which leads to compromise and decline.
Finally let us especially keep in our prayers this Christmas those brothers and sisters for whom the confession that Jesus is Christ the Lord can cost even their lives. In some parts of the world Christmas is a time when attacks by extremist movements are most common. Pray that God will protect, provide and give them perseverance and that those of us who are free to gather without fear may take every opportunity we have to make Jesus known as Lord and Saviour.
Last Sunday here in Nairobi thousands of us in All Saints Cathedral sang the great advent hymn ‘Come thou long expected Jesus’ and may I particularly commend to you the second verse as a prayer to express the desires of our hearts for the Anglican Communion and the witness of all believers in the year ahead:
Born thy people to deliver,
born a child and yet a King,
born to reign in us forever,
now thy gracious kingdom bring.
By thine own eternal spirit
rule in all our hearts alone;
by thine all sufficient merit,
raise us to thy glorious throne.
May Christ the Lord, the Prince of Peace, be with you and all you love this Christmas.