CHRISTMAS MESSAGE 2017 from the Catholic Mission of The Gambia by His Lordship Bishop Robert Patrick Ellison

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

1. The Christmas message has been told in many ways. The most popular of them has been given to us by St. Luke. It’s the Gospel story we hear each year at the midnight mass. Luke begins by giving us two details about Jesus’ birth: He was born when the Roman Emperor, Caesar Augustus, ruled the world; and, He was born in a stable on a hillside outside the town of Bethlehem, because there was no room for Mary and Joseph in the town.

Luke therefore tells us the time and the place where Jesus was born. He did this because he wanted to let us know that the coming of the Son of God on earth was firmly recorded in the history of our world. And then: it all happened in the silence of a cold night.

Then, an Angel of the Lord appeared to some shepherds to tell them: ‘I bring you news of great joy; today in the town of David (Bethlehem) a Saviour has been born to you. He is Christ the Lord.’

2. With that message, the shepherds went in haste to Bethlehem. There they found Mary and Joseph and the child lying in a manger. It was exactly as the shepherds had been told by the Angel. Then they went back to their flocks glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. Imagine! God chose just a few shepherds to be responsible to make known the good news about the birth of our Saviour. In a sense, they were the first missionaries to announce the birth of the long-awaited Saviour. How did Luke come to know this story? Most probably he would have learnt it from Mary herself.

3. St. Francis of Assisi was also inspired to tell us about the Christmas story. And he did so without using any words at all!! He decided to build or to create a very simple ‘crib’ – something that would be similar to the cave and the manger in which Jesus was born. Francis often taught his companions: ‘preach the Good News at all times and, only if necessary, use words’! In other words, example is more powerful than preaching. Francis was as poor as those first shepherds chosen by God.

And so, he assembled the first crib on Christmas night in the year 1223, in a cave on the side of a mountain in Italy. A large crowd of local people came to take part in the ceremony with the first crib. Its only occupants were an image of the Christ child lying in a manger of straw beside two live animals (an ox and a donkey).

The purpose of the crib was to help the people to imagine the scene of Jesus’ birth on that first Christmas. And his idea touched the hearts and minds of farmers and shepherds who lived in the nearby village of Greccio.

One of St. Francis’ companions wrote a very brief account of his experiences on that night: Simplicity was honoured; Poverty was exalted; Humility was praised’.

4. The making of a crib in our Churches and homes at Christmas has spread all over the world following the example of St. Francis. Christmas has always been a time of joy. We sing the carols with great joy: Joy to the World; Hark the Herald Angels sing; Once in Royal David’s city. The son of Mary, a helpless child, is also the Son of God. However, we must also ‘taste’ the real joy in our hearts as we look at that tiny figure of the Christ child and gaze in wonder at the mystery that confronts us.

5. ‘She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn’.

No room for you in the city, Jesus; so many doors were tried and closed to you; so many places did not warm you with welcome.

But, there is still a coming, there is still a Bethlehem.

It is the city of my heart – with no room to give you welcome.

It is the manger of my inner self where your request is made,

Searching for an entrance to my poor and empty dwelling.

And Lord, when it is time to say: this is Christmas day.

I pray that you will warmly be welcome, in the Bethlehem of my heart.

Yalla, sunyu Borom, nyungi la gerem ngir sa dom Yesu Krista, ki di fengyal sa har kanam chi nyun.

You, Yalla Borom yermande, mi nyu wotu sasu nyu sone te new dole.  Sunyu reyrey, nga ut nyu be gis nyu, te fehal sunyu hol.

Nanyu Yesu Bur I jama ji dimali, ndah nyu sahal jama chi sunyu bir hol, chi bir sunyu njobot, chi sunyu reu ak chi bir aduna si sepa. AMEN.