Address given in Växjö Cathedral after his Consecration as Bishop
“I bring you news of great joy, joy for all people!”
Those were the angel’s words to the shepherds outside Bethlehem that night when Jesus was born. And they are my words to you. Outside Bethlehem lies what people today call the shepherds’ field – which is actually several fields. You take your pick: the Catholic, the Orthodox or the Protestant! All according to taste and disposition. Fields for everyone!
It is ancient pasture-land where for thousands of years shepherds came with their sheep and goats. And it was very likely here that a few shepherds had a powerful and transformational experience on that remarkable night, which they described as the vision of an angel. And the people in Bet Sahour, as the village is called, do not doubt it for a second. Quite the opposite!
They, the shepherds’ distant descendants, tell it like this: “When God’s Son was born, God was, just like every father, eager to tell the news as soon as possible. And he put his mind to the question of the fastest way of getting the word out. It was then he thought of us in the shepherds’ field. Because if there is one thing we are known for, it is being good at spreading rumours and gossip. Something happens at one end of the village and people know it at the other end just before it has happened! That’s why God chose us to be the first people he told about his Son’s birth!
“And so it became widely known that Jesus was born!”
That is what I hope we will be able to be as a church and as a diocese: quick to spread the good news, joy for the whole people. Tell it and live it! But we know that it was not a joy that takes life lightly that awaited the small child. The road from the crib in Bethlehem to the cross in Jerusalem was not long. Over the entrance to the cave where the crib stood, over which the Church of the Nativity was built in Bethlehem, hangs a crucifix – it hangs there as a sign indicating that suffering and death awaited the small child. And that this is part of life.
But we who have heard the whole story about the small child’s life know something more. Suffering and death were not the end. For right there in the deepest darkness, in what turned into betrayal, pain and death in Jerusalem, the light was kindled and life broke through and conquered, even defeating death. And in the strength of that life we are church and against that background we preach the good news. The apostle Paul expressed it to the congregation in Philippi like this: “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say: rejoice.”
The entire bible is full of exhortations to rejoice and stories about how joy breaks through. We have reasons to be joyful – even in the darkest valley, and perhaps precisely there. When we are in that place it is difficult to be the one who carries the message of joy but at such times we find others who bring the message to us, if we in our parishes dare to let joy flow through, to liberate, restore and encourage one another.
Archbishop Anders said in his sermon and consecration address at my ordination as bishop last Sunday (21 November 2010) in Uppsala that seriousness and yearning are needed if joy is to have any power. And Lisa Syrén wrote the previous Friday in Smålandsposten: “Imagine a church that takes joy seriously!” Then I was happy and thought: “Good God, let us do that!”
Advent is, almost by definition, an occasion of joy.. The singing, the music, the candles lit in the darkness; longing and expectation hanging in the air. So, we usher in the new Church year. A basic chord in a major key leading to a great crescendo towards the new.
Let us maintain this foundational note throughout the whole church year, in our own individual lives and in our parishes. The song of joy, the song of praise, is not a way of escaping from the brutality of reality and the world’s brokenness. It is both a protest song and a song of hope in the midst of the world. It is taking joy seriously! And joy is not something to keep to ourselves, but a joy for everybody everywhere!
I bring you good news of great joy, joy for all people!
Source of article: Diocese of Växjö web pages (translated)