Christmas Message 2017 From The Anglican Diocese Of Gambia By The Rt. Reverend James Allen Yaw Odico Bishop Of The Anglican Diocese Of Gambia

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Dear People of God,

At Christmas, in The Gambia like many parts of the world, Christians share gifts with their families and friends including close neighbours. This tradition, like many others which have no religious barrier, illuminates the God given PEACE the smiling coast of Gambia enjoys today. However, there is a greater gift that we can share as we celebrate this Christmas: a gift that is free, a gift that everyone desperately needs, a gift that will not rot, the most precious gift. “For unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given” (Isaiah 9:6a). This Son, ‘Jesus Christ’, is the gift I wish to share with you. A probable question after the announcement of this gift may be, why this gift? Why not material wealth? Why not power and authority?

Indeed, when God created man he gave man absolute wealth, power and authority. Man lived in paradise, ‘the Garden of Eden’, where everything was available and under the custody and authority of man (Genesis 2:15).Moreover, man had intimate relationship with God. The LORD commanded that man can eat of any tree in the garden except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil for which he shall surely die the day he eats of it (Genesis 2: 16-17). Sadly,man in Adam disobeyed God and died spiritually, therefore disconnecting that intimate relationship with the holy God who cannot dwell with sin. So man lost control of the wealth, authority and power and now has to fend for himself. He was now free from righteousness but enslaved in sin. “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23).

Beloved viewers, listeners and readers: God is love, and does not want anyone to die but that he/she may repent of his/her sins, yet without death the sin cannot be blotted out. Revealing His steadfast love for the world, God “gave his only begotten son so that everyone who believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).

“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given…. and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6).

Beloved in Christ, viewers, readers and listeners: our response now is only to believe, and by faith in him we are justified and will receive the Holy Spirit that will guide and strengthen us in the spiritual journey. “For if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctified to the purifying of the flesh: how much more shall the blood of Christ who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God” (Hebrews 9:13-14). When John the Baptist saw Jesus, he declared: Behold the lamb of God which taketh away the sins of the world” (John 1:21).

“The Father loveth the son and hath given everything into his hand. He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life and he that believeth not the son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth in him” (John 3:35-36).

“Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life (Romans 5:18). Let us then continue to share this gift of PEACE AND RECONCILIATION to everyone.“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given”.

What can we now say of the rule of the Prince of Peace?  The prophecy of the birth of the child who would be known as the Prince of Peace is the prophecy of the birth of Jesus.  During his life here on earth, Jesus taught us about this PEACE, and about the Kingdom.  Certainly, Jesus did not advocate violence.  However, he went much further in his portrayal of ‘peace’.  He taught us about right relationships.  He taught us how important it is that we should love our neighbour – that is, have concern for the wellbeing of our neighbour.  Jesus told us, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God” (Matthew 5: 9).  He further said we are no longer to hold to the doctrine of “an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth”.  As Ghandi said, if we follow that teaching, the whole world becomes blind!  Jesus taught, “You have heard it said,’Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’  But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” (Matthew 5: 43 and 44).  This kind of teaching was extraordinary at that time, and is extraordinary even today.  Our instinct is to strike back at those who oppose or offend us.  However, that is not the way to a sustainable peace.  It only leads to a cycle of violence.  To refuse to hate and to refuse to fight the enemy may be seen as a way of weakness.  However, I put it to you that it is the way of strength.  It takes far more strength NOT to retaliate – NOT to fight.  Non-violent resistance to injustice is far more powerful than armed conflict.  Non-violence cannot be fought or destroyed.  If determined to be peaceful, a person cannot be forced to be violent.  Do you see the strength in this?  As Archbishop Desmond Tutu said – “Love is stronger than hate”.  The refusal to hate one’s enemy or opponent is extremely powerful.  Although not easy, as we must all realise.  However, this is an approach to life that is definitely worth striving for.

The incarnate God himself spearheads the reconciliation, “In a little wrath I hid my face from thee for a moment; but with the everlasting kindness will I have mercy on thee, saith the LORD thy Redeemer (Isaiah 54:8). He further assures all that would receive this precious gift: the mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed; but my kindness shall not depart from thee, neither shall the covenant of my peace be removed… (Isaiah 54:10).As we celebrate the birth of Christ, I call on all to consider this plea and share with others: “Come now and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool” (Isaiah 1:18).

Beloved in Christ, you will agree with me that as we press on with our political, economic, social and religious reforms, The Gambia needs to take advantage of this gift. Jesus invites every one that thirst to come to the waters, and even those that have no financial means to come and buy wine and milk without price. He questions why we should spend money on what is not bread and our labour on what does not satisfy.

Beloved viewers, listeners and readers: As I conclude this message to you this Christmas, I have no Silver or Gold; but I give to you what I have which is eternal life through Jesus Christ. “For unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given.”

On behalf of his Lordship the Bishop and the entire Anglican family in the Diocese of Gambia, I wish the Head of state, the Government and people of our beloved nation, The Gambia; our brothers and sisters in the Muslim fraternity, and all well-wishers, a Merry Christmas.”  

Source: Picture: Reverend Canon James Allen Yaw Odico