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2023 Christmas Message from Bishop Russell

Opening Up the Way to God

I live in the house in which I was raised.  It was designed and built by my dad in 1965.  It is situated along the shoreline of Cinco Bayou in Fort Walton Beach.   It is familiar; it is comfortable; it is safe; it is home.   


About a week ago on something of a whim, I decided to open up the wall between the kitchen and living room. The kitchen is what architects call a galley kitchen.  Long and narrow and a bit dark and confined.  It is also about the only room in the house from where you are unable to see the bayou.


It is still a work in progress.   But one morning a few days ago I walked into the kitchen as I have done for the last eight years to make my coffee.  I was stunned and mesmerized by the view that the new wall opening provided. So much light shone into what was a darkened room, so much beauty.  It was glorious. 


I stood there for a while,  as the hymn goes, “lost in wonder love and praise.”  I had a sense that opening up the wall would make a difference, but I had no idea the fullness of all it would reveal. 


In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. All things came into being through him. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, full of grace and truth.


And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, full of grace and truth. I have come to a point in my faith journey that I do not see the incarnation as a rescue mission from heaven, or the solution to a problem with humanity. Such theological ideas point us more to the cross and Easter.  


The incarnation is the wondrous gift of God opening up the way between heaven and earth, between God and us, so that we might see and know and enjoy the glorious fullness of God’s grace and love that is most fully revealed to us in the life and way and truth of Christ Jesus. 


And it is a gift not just for one time, but all times. And the Word becomes flesh and lives among us. Are we willing to let God tear down some walls and open up new ways to us so that we too see and know the fullness of God’s grace?


Faith that is familiar, comfortable, and safe is not a bad thing.  But like my galley kitchen, it can confine us.  I wonder what it might mean for us to let God open up some walls that we have built around us.


To be opened up to see and to truly know the fullness of God’s love for us; to be opened up to see and know the beauty of God’s truth in all creation; to be opened to God’s power to heal us and transform us, so that in turn, we join God in opening up ways for those who feel confined in darkness to know the fullness of God’s light of love for them;  to open up ways for all people to know healing, to experience mercy, and to be inspired by the eternal promise of hope.


Yes, there remains the reality of darkness.  There is despair.  There is depression.  We hear about it.  We feel it.  We know it can dwell in our flesh. But dear friends, there is also light.

And that light shines.  And it is glorious.


I do hope that you have a Merry Christmas.  Even more, I hope for you to have a wondrous Incarnation. 


May we be opened up to the fullness of God’s light of love that is the incarnation.


May we be opened up to being surprised and mesmerized and even transformed so that the whole world might see and know this same grace that we cherish and celebrate. 


And May God’s love so fill your heart this Christmas that you are lost in wonder, love, and praise.  

Merry Christmas,



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