Mar 26, 2012, 2:00 PM
THE BIRTH OF JESUS IS GOOD NEWS OF GREAT JOY AND PEACE FOR ALL PEOPLES – Lk.
On this joyous and peaceful day we celebrate the birth of the Son of God and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, I address my Christmas message to you my dear brothers and sisters in Christ, our fellow Muslim neighbors, relatives, and friends, believers of other faiths, and all Gambians at home and abroad. First of all, I sincerely praise and thank God for his infinite and unconditional love for the whole human race in fulfilling his promise to save us from sin and the forces of evil through his Son Jesus Christ. This is also another opportunity for me to repeat and underscore my appeal for peace that I made at the National Day of Prayer for all Gambians of all tribes, religion, political affiliation, and status to pray, promote, and preserve peace and mutual coexistence in our beloved country.
At this stage of our history, experience, and resolve to establish a New Gambia that ensures freedom, human rights, justice, trust, accountability, rule of law, and development, we cannot afford to exploit our political, religious, and tribal differences at the expense of our relative peace, mutual coexistence, respect, and equality of all Gambians. If we do, we will all pay a severe price and equally suffer the consequences. The theme of my Christmas message this year, in light of the current situation in The Gambia is, therefore, “The Birth of Jesus is Good News of Great Joy and Peace for all Peoples.”
This statement represents part of the angel’s message to the shepherds who were watching over their flock on the holy night Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem. The angel appeared to them in Lk.2:9-13 and said, “do not be afraid for I proclaim to you Good News of Great Joy that will be for all the peoples. For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Christ, the Lord.” The birth of Jesus was revealed and proclaimed to the shepherds by the angel as Good News of great joy for all peoples. They were, therefore, urged not to be afraid of anything because his birth is a cause of joy for all peoples and not a reason for fear, hatred, and sadness for anyone.
The angel was simply God’s messenger he sent to the shepherds so the angel’s message was God’s own statement about the true reason of his Son’s birth into our world. God clearly affirmed that the birth of his Son, Jesus is nothing but Good News of great joy for all peoples because Jesus is savior of the human race. He redeemed us from sin and death and offered us a share in his divine life so that we can become true sons and daughters of God by participation and adoption. The celebration of the birth of Jesus, his life, death, resurrection, and ascension that we Christians celebrate at Christmas, Easter, and Ascension should always be celebrated as Good News of great joy for all peoples because it attained for us the final victory of light over darkness, goodness over evil, and life over death.
In this passage, the angel fully revealed meaning of Jesus’ name, his identity and mission. He said, “for today in the city of David, a savior has been born for you who is Christ, the Lord.” The new born child was identified by the angel as the savior, anointed one, and Lord so he was the one God promised to send his chosen people through his prophets of old. The angel’s message equally assured the shepherds that God’s promise of a savior was fulfilled at the appointed time and he was named Jesus because “he is the one who will save God’s people from their sins.” (Mt.1:21). The name Jesus rightly means savior so we should proudly profess this name that represents the savior of our human race. He was revealed to the shepherds as both savior and Lord because he is also God who is far more superior and powerful than any other person or authority. Our Lord Jesus will, therefore, save us from the forces of sin, evil, and corruption that are against our efforts to serve God and bear witness to our faith and the values of God’s word in our society and world today.
If the birth of Jesus was not revealed to the shepherds as Good News of great joy for all peoples, they would probably not have set out to Bethlehem to see the child Jesus and her Mother Mary and Joseph. They would have been ignorant of the savior’s birth and continue in their normal routine of watching their sheep. But because they were reliably informed of what his birth and name means for all peoples and they were disposed and interested enough in the angel’s message, they decided, on their part, “to go to Bethlehem and see for themselves what the Lord has made known to them.” (Lk. 2:15) This clearly indicates that if God does not reveal and enlighten us about the identity and mission of his Son, we cannot take the necessary steps on our own to encounter him. No one will also know and understand that the birth of Jesus is joy and peace for all if the message is not delivered to them as the angel presented it to the shepherds. It means it is our duty today to enlighten others about the positive outcome of the birth of Jesus for the human race. As believers, we have a responsibility like the angel to help others to become interested in encountering Jesus in their lives because Jesus was not revealed as a savior and Lord of a particular people. He is savior and Lord of all peoples who brings joy and peace into their lives. In this season of Christmas and throughout the year, we must proclaim Jesus as the one who saves all peoples from the power of darkness, fear, hatred, and death.
A sense of disappointment and an atmosphere of unease and uncertainty about our country’s future religious relations is increasingly expressed among Christians and minority groups in The Gambia. This is because the new draft constitution did not fully establish the neutrality of the state or government in matters of religion and religious affairs. We therefore believe that our religious freedom and right to worship as a minority and the equality of all religions is not fully guaranteed and assured under the provisions of the new draft constitution that introduces the laws and judicial practice of a particular religion in its contents. Now based on the fact that a legal and legitimate constitution of any country is duly bound to be inclusive in its representation of the concerns, aspirations, and needs of all citizens including the minority, I fervently appeal to the Constitutional Review Commission, the President, Judiciary, and our National Assembly to ensure that this is the case in our new constitution that is meant to serve our future generation. As we await the outcome of our prayers, efforts, and divine intervention to ensure there is equality, justice, and respect for all citizens of The Gambia, we celebrate and rejoice in God’s love, goodness, and mercy in granting us a savior and Lord whose birth is Good News of great joy for all peoples.
For so many generations, we have an admirable tradition of Christians, Muslims, and other believers in The Gambia celebrating the feast of the birth of Christ as neighbors, relatives, and friends. We express our solidarity, mutual respect, and unity by visiting each other’s homes and exchanging Christmas gifts, cards, and messages. As the Catholic Bishop of the Diocese of Banjul and on behalf of the Christian faithful, I express my deepest gratitude to Imam Ratib of Banjul and the Council of Muslim Elders of Banjul for maintaining this tradition and gesture on behalf of their Muslim brothers and sisters. We continue to thank God for this great and noble tradition of celebrating Christmas and other Muslim feasts as Gambians irrespective of our religious beliefs. Our common task now 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 whose birth is a source of great joy and peace for all of us.
Yours in Christ,
+Gabriel Mendy C.S.Sp.
Bishop of the Diocese of Banjul,