Minnesota Annual Conference
Have a green Christmas

November 25, 2009

The Rev. Charlie West (center), pastor of Grace United Methodist Church in Marquette, Mich., collects electronic discards during the 2006 Earth Keeper Clean Sweep. In 2006, more than 300 tons of electronic waste were collected at 27 sites in the Upper Peninsula area of Michigan. A UMNS photo by Greg Peterson
Normally when we think of a green Christmas, we think of a holiday without snow. What if we thought about it in terms of celebrating Jesus’ birth by renewing God’s creation?

At our meeting this fall, the Council of Bishops unanimously passed a foundation document and pastoral letter titled “God’s Renewal of Creation: Call to Hope and Action.” We are asking all United Methodist churches to read or publish the pastoral letter during Advent. One version of the pastoral letter includes a liturgy of lamentation and confession that is suitable for worship or small groups. Visit www.minnesotaumc.org/bishop for links to the documents.

Some may wonder why they are being asked to do lamentation and confession during Advent. We often forget that Advent is a mini-Lent—a time of waiting, watching, and preparing ourselves to receive Christ, who is born in our hearts and world again. ’Tis the season of renewal, for us and for God’s creation.

During Advent we prepare ourselves for the coming of the Prince of Peace, who promises to bring peace on Earth. Peace and the care of creation are integrally tied together. Many people wondered how an environmental activist like Al Gore could receive a Nobel Peace Prize. What does environmentalism have to do with peace? When natural resources, including clean water and food—not to mention fossil fuels—are limited, weapons stockpiling, conflict, and violence proliferate.

What makes for peace

Often at Christmas we receive cards with pictures of the peaceable kingdom, the lion and the lamb resting together. This is an image of God’s creatures living together in harmony, as described in Isaiah 11:6 and 9:

The wolf shall live with the lamb,
the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
and a little child shall lead them . . .
They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain,
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.

Imagine all the plant and animal species, especially those on the endangered list, living in harmony with each other along with humanity in such a way that they are supportive and sustainable. I believe that’s what the Prince of Peace calls us to imagine so that in our living, even in our celebrating of Jesus’ birth, we can live into its promise.

We believe Jesus is the hope of the world. But what hope does a future generation have if we have wasted and consumed all the natural resources of this Earth? Did you know that one of our children or grandchildren has the carbon footprint of up to 13 children in developing countries? What hope do our children and grandchildren have, along with the children in developing countries, if the Earth’s resources are so depleted and limited that they go hungry, live in poverty, suffer from poverty-related illnesses, and violence marks their lives?

We believe that Jesus brings joy to the world. Notice that the carol “Joy to the World” suggests that Jesus’ coming and the Earth’s wellbeing are intricately tied. “Heaven and nature sing” when Jesus comes. But how can nature sing if it’s suffering, sick, and dying? Consider the third verse:

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
nor thorns infest the ground;
he comes to make his blessings flow
far as the curse is found . . .

The carol reminds us that the Hebrew scriptures are filled with images of joy when people are faithful and the Earth blossoms, produces fruit, and rejoices. Truly, let heaven and nature sing!

We believe that Jesus is God’s love made flesh. We display manger scenes every year to recall that Jesus was born into a humble, poor family and that this Savior is born for the poorest, most vulnerable of the world.

Desperate lives

If Jesus were born today, I wonder if he might be born in one of the garbage-dump communities that exist around the world, such as that depicted in the movie Slumdog Millionaire. Would Jesus be a child who pokes around a smoking garbage dump, looking for food and clothing and a few articles to sell for some money? If that shocks us, why doesn’t it shock us that children live in such environments today? Many of the poor, violent, hungry, diseased conditions of children today are the result of our misuse of God’s creation.

If we believe Jesus is the Prince of Peace, the hope and joy of the world, and the embodiment of God’s love, to follow Jesus means to seek renewal for God’s creation and God’s people, including ourselves, our children, and our grandchildren.

What one aspect of your celebration this year of Jesus’ birth would renew God’s creation? How can you reuse and recycle gifts or materials for gifts, and use less wrapping paper? Remember Grandma saving, and even ironing, every piece of tissue paper? Can you use LED (light-emitting diode) decorative lights that use far less energy? To be intentional about protecting the environment does not take all the fun and light out of the holiday! Web sites like www.eartheasy.com/give_sustainchristmas.htm provide ideas. I encourage you to visit my blog this season and share with others your struggles, experiences, and hopes for renewing God’s creation, starting this Advent season.

’Tis the season (every season) to work to renew God’s creation!

Bishop Sally Dyck