Christmas Letter from Bishop Sandra

By Sandra Steiner Ball

To the family and friends of the West Virginia Conference

God can mend our brokenness!

The spirit of the Lord God is upon me because the Lord has anointed me. 
He has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, 
to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives, release to the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, 
and the day of vindication for our God, to comfort all who mourn. 

The Lord calls us to provide for those who mourn because of COVID, the inability to be with family and friends in the ways we long to be, death, racism, illness, violence, and vandalism. To give a garland instead of ashes. To give gladness instead of gloom. 

And the Spirit of the Lord has anointed us with strength to sustain a mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit. Calling us the oaks of righteousness, we are planted by the Lord to display the glory of God. We shall build up; we shall rise up from devastation. With the Lord’s Spirit we shall be repaired and renewed. (adapted from Isaiah 61:1-4.)

Broken down and beaten – this was the condition of the children of Israel in Isaiah’s time. Scattered, shattered, and battered by life. This year we have had a similar experience. In a time in which the local officials were unable to rectify the situation, Isaiah calls God’s people to look to the Almighty King. The one who could raise up what had been beaten down. Release what has been held captive. Bind up what has been broken. Repair what has been ruined. Deliver what has been devastated. 

Many times, we are not much different from the Israelites to whom Isaiah was speaking…looking to anyone and everyone but the right one to help us out, because the people who should have known who God was and is – really did not. But Isaiah knew who God was. He knew God up close and personal. He understood God’s ability and was certain that God could repair and restore. 

Isaiah knew the only way to be repaired, healed, strengthened, resurrected to new life, is to allow the real King, God Almighty, to do the mending. Those who believe in the true King, get put together again. God has the best super glue on the market and that is Jesus.  Jesus has the power to wash away the mars and the scratches, to fill in the crevices of our cracked and broken lives, and to replenish our inner being where we have lost some of our substance.  

Jesus is the justice bringer, repairer of the way, and the fortifier as we move with him to resurrection and new life. Jesus sustains and maintains. Jesus corrects and Jesus mends. Jesus solidifies and reconciles. But we must have a personal relationship with, not just knowledge of, the King of Kings.

2020 has reinforced the fact that we will experience stumbles and tumbles. We may get bruised and battered. We might have a few scrapes, health issues, financial woes, family and church disagreements, job losses. But our falls do not have to be fatal. Because of Jesus, when we become battered, we can shout thank you Jesus because healing is on the way. When we become dismayed, we can sing for I know I am not alone. When money is low, we can remember God has promised to provide for every need! 

Jesus was born and died, gave his entire life, to give us strength from day to day – And, that sacrifice will never ever lose its power. In the midnight hour when your heart is heavy Jesus can soothe your doubt, calm your fears and Jesus dries all your tears. The Christmas child forms us into a new body with new and extended family where stranger becomes friend and Christ gives us strength to connect, support, and grow together in new ways. 

That is the kind of God we have and that is the kind of God to which we are called to give witness.  As we begin this Christmas season, spend time contemplating on and pray for your church and community family. Think about those who may have lost a spouse, a child, a job.  Think about those dealing with substance abuse.  Think of those who continue to be victims of racism and other forms of violence. God will bind their wounds, but how will they know to allow the Christ child into their hearts? How can you prepare the bandages, even be the bandage that makes the way for Christ’s hope and healing?

As we come to the day when we remember the story of the shepherds, think about how the shepherds, considered outsiders by most, were family to one another, how they understood one another and how they responded together – leaving their livelihood to travel and see and receive the miracle that awaited.  In the proclamation from Isaiah and in the story of the shepherds, we clearly see that God has a special concern for the dispossessed, the marginalized, the poor, and the forgotten. Who are the forgotten and the broken in our families, churches, schools, neighborhoods? Who has been pushed aside?  How do we respond?

People are crying for help, and God is calling us to bring good news and to bind up the broken. Are we willing to leave behind the comfortable and familiar and venture to new places and unfamiliar neighbors?  God calls us individually, and as congregations, to open ourselves to new partnerships for mission and witness.  We are to witness to God’s love, compassion, and concern.  We are to witness to the birth and healing power of Christ again, again, and again.  The forgotten, the broken, those of low regard, were God’s special and honored guests.  God cares for and binds up the brokenness for people such as these and so must we!

Merry Christmas!

Bishop Sandra