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Give the gift of time together this Christmas

December 03, 2018

What a privilege to represent the South Georgia Conference at the Georgia Farm Bureau annual convention this weekend. It didn’t hurt that it was held at the Jekyll Island Convention Center, where we’ve held our annual conference session the past two years. What a spectacular setting.

I have enjoyed getting to know Gerald Long, the president of Georgia Farm Bureau. Their main office is in Macon, on Bass Road near the episcopal residence. President Long is a farmer from Bainbridge, where I was raised. He invited me to preach for the memorial service with which the convention begins each year. We recognized 11 former county presidents who have died over the past year. It was a blessing to read the Word and preach the Gospel message as it applies to those who have experienced grief and loss. 

The Georgia Farm Bureau represents nearly 300,000 farm families throughout the state. I enjoyed meeting several United Methodists who are active members of South Georgia churches. The farmers of South Georgia have experienced tremendous crop loss and property damage as a result of Hurricane Michael. The annual meeting brings them together for mutual support and encouragement. It was an inspiration to spend time with people of such stamina and resiliency.

Like Georgia’s hardworking farmers, we United Methodists have found that coming together is essential for our spiritual health. That insight goes all the way back to John Wesley. You know that a major part of the genius of early Methodism was the way it brought people together in classes, bands, and societies. I know we sometimes think of gatherings like charge conference, district conference, and annual conference as “business meetings.” But I found those very meetings to be opportunities for mutual support and encouragement. I loved meeting with the farmers and I truly love opportunities for fellowship with United Methodists. 

The Gospel lesson for the fourth Sunday of Advent gives an interesting example of the importance of coming together. After receiving the surprising and perplexing news that she would have a son, Mary immediately goes to be with her relative, Elizabeth (who will give birth to John the Baptist). The whole story is found in Luke 1:39-56. What a time of mutual support and encouragement that must have been for these two women who were still adjusting to a life- changing experience. And what a reminder that when we are facing times of uncertainty and anxiety we need to be together with others who will walk with us on the journey.  Connecting is so important. Mary knew that and therefore went to be with Elizabeth. And she stayed three months! And sang The Magnificat!

Do we know what Mary knew? Do we intentionally spend time with those whom we know are good for us?  The Advent/Christmas season offers us many opportunities to join Mary and Elizabeth in spending time with each other. In unusual situations, like the approach of General Conference in February, we need more, not less, time together. May God give us the peace and joy that Mary and Elizabeth found in the simple act of coming together.

Have a truly merry Christmas by being Alive Together in Christ,

R. Lawson Bryan

The Council of Bishops (COB) of The United Methodist Church is mourning the death of the 41st U.S. President, George H. W. Bush. I join COB President Bishop Ken Carter and my fellow UMC bishops in praying that God’s sustaining grace and strength will surround the entire Bush family in the days to come. Click here to read a letter sent to President George W. Bush and the Bush family, from Bishop Carter and the Council of Bishops.

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