tradition and practice of delivering Christmas message, sending Christmas cards
to parishioners, relatives, and friends, going into homes to sing carols, and
celebrating the feast of Christmas as a family, parish, community, and national
feast day are all accurate and vital expressions of the meaning and spirit of
this historic Christian feast. Throughout the ages, the feast of Christmas is
celebrated in an interpersonal and joyful manner because it is the birthday of
Jesus, the Word of God made man and the savior of the whole human race. His
long awaited birth into the world of humanity was not only a crucial turning
point in the life of every human person, it was also announced by the angels
with great joy for all peoples to hear and celebrate. In Lk. 2:10-11, the angel
informed the shepherds that he brought them good news of great joy to be shared
by the whole people; that a savior is born for them and he is Christ the Lord.
One cannot, therefore, celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ at Christmas without
expressing and sharing one’s inner joy, peace, hope, faith in God, and gifts
with other believers and fellow human beings around you.
For us Christians, the birth of Jesus at Christmas is also a celebration of the Mystery of the Incarnation, that is, of God becoming a human being in the person of Jesus who is like you and me in all things but sin. Like other mysteries, the Incarnation cannot be fully explained or understood in human terms but it is all for the sake of humanity’s salvation in Christ Jesus that God humbled himself and assumed our human nature in his Son, Jesus Christ. Many saints like Ss. Athanasius, Cyril, Augustine, and Leo the Great would, therefore, assert that God became a human person so that we human beings can become like God. God became a human person in Christ Jesus so that we can share in his divine life and imitate God. We are told in Isa. 7:14 that the Virgin shall conceive and bear a son and his name shall be called Emmanuel which means God is with us. The Child Jesus lying in the manger is truly God with us in the mystery of the Incarnation because God became man and assumed our human condition in his Son Jesus Christ. Each and every one of us should unite in celebrating the feast of Christmas with a sense of joy and assurance because God is personally with us in our respective situations in life.
As an annual and popular feast in our country and the world at large, Christmas can become a routine and burdensome celebration for individuals and families. The commitments, demands, and expenditures involved can gradually cause us to adopt a mechanical and passive attitude towards Christmas instead of celebrating it in the right spirit and disposition of mind and heart. For us to overcome this tendency, I invite each and every one of us to recognize and understand Christmas, first and foremost, as God’s precious gift of his Son to us. This is the main message of Christmas that is expressed in the readings and liturgy of the season: that a child, a son, a savior is born for us. God allowed his Son Jesus to be born in our sinful and corrupt world for our sake. We have, on our part, to personalize this message and appreciate the reason why Jesus was born in Bethlehem for all of us. St. Augustine of Hippo perfectly explained this Christmas message in one of his sermons Sermon 185. He said, “wake up, O man – it is for you that God was made man. For you, I say, was God made man. [Otherwise], eternal death would have awaited you had he not been born in time. Never would you be freed from your sinful flesh, had he not taken to himself the likeness of sinful flesh.” Each and every one of us should be extremely grateful to God for offering his Son to us, in order to, inherit eternal life. We should, likewise, be ready to celebrate his birth in the spirit of joy, thanksgiving, and charity.
In our secular and peaceful country, The Gambia, the birth of Jesus Christ at Christmas is celebrated by Christians, Muslims, and other believers as well. The Christians ensure that their Muslim neighbors, brothers, and sisters, and other believers are among those they exchange Christmas gifts, cards, and messages. As the Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Banjul, in The Gambia, I join the faithful and all people of goodwill in thanking God for this great and noble tradition of celebrating Christmas and other feasts as Gambians irrespective of our religious beliefs. The challenge and task we now face at this moment of our history as a nation is to preserve this tradition and actively promote peace, mutual co-existence, equality before the law, and respect for our religious and cultural diversities in The Gambia. I therefore, take this opportunity to appeal to every Gambian at home and abroad to positively contribute towards the peace, stability, religious freedom, and progress of The Gambia. As we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, I wish all Gambians a peaceful, joyful, and solemn Christmas celebration. Above all, I pray that The Gambia, its Government, and peoples will experience the saving power of Jesus Christ, our Prince of Peace.
Yours in Christ,
+Gabriel Mendy C.S.Sp.
Bishop of the Diocese of Banjul, The Gambia.