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Christmas Message of the Bishop Robert Ellison of Catholic Church The Gambia

Dec 27, 2010, 12:11 PM | Article By: Picture: Bishop Robert Ellison

A.  A few years ago, I received a Christmas card from Malawi. It was a picture of five young children (6-8 years old) standing in front of a Crib, fascination on their faces as they gazed at the various images: a baby, a mother, a father, a cow, an ox, shepherds with sheep on their shoulders….small lights twinkling like stars in the sky and in the background a town on a hill – Bethlehem. Their eyes were fixed in deep thought – full of wonder and curiosity. It seemed as if they were in a trance, totally immersed in the world of that crib; as if they were no longer present to the world where they were standing. You would love to know what was going on in their little minds – trying to figure out the very strange circumstances in which this poor baby was born.

Children have a natural habit of stopping and taking time to look at things that attract them in some way. If only we could all grow up without losing that same sense of wonder. Unfortunately, parents can interrupt such moments for a child: ‘Let’s go’, they would say, ‘we have no time’ – then a long arm pulls the child away from his/her need to enjoy or discover something new.

But even now, it is never too late for us to rediscover that need to look at things in the world around us through the eyes of a child. The child inside each of us remains with us as we grow up. But it needs our attention and it needs to be nurtured in the way that Jesus speaks to us in the Gospel: ‘Unless you change and become as little children are, you cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven’. For this to happen, we too need to stop, take time, see and listen.

B. Each year, the birth of Jesus provides us with a special opportunity to marvel at the message of the crib.

Luke is the only evangelist who records the events surrounding the birth of Jesus. It is a very simple and brief account. When Joseph and Mary arrived in Bethlehem, the time came for her to deliver her child. She brought forth her firstborn, wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger because there was no room in the hostel.

The Christmas Crib helps us to focus our minds and hearts on the great mystery which we call the Incarnation – the Word of God taking flesh in a tiny baby. We believe that He is Emmanuel, God-with us. Like Mary, we need to ponder over these things in our hearts.

 - First of all: where did it happen? In a small town called Bethlehem – referred to by the prophet Micah as the very least of all the towns in Judah. It was a town of no special importance in those days, though it was so at one time. It was the city of David, the King, the anointed one of God.

Apart from that, Joseph and Mary were unable to find even a small room where she could have some privacy in giving birth. Instead, they were directed to a shepherd’s cave just outside the town. That became the labour ward for the Word made flesh.

- When did it happen? It was winter time in Palestine – as the Christmas carol reminds us: ‘the snow lay on the ground’. It must have been very cold. A tradition tells us that the birth took place at night – pointing us to words we find in the Book of Wisdom in the Old Testament:

‘When all things were in quiet silence, and night had run half of her swift course, your all-powerful word , O Lord, leaped down from Heaven, from the royal throne’. On that night, heaven was joined to earth when the Son of God became the Son of Mary.

C. Who then is this child we are looking at? Is it possible that the all powerful God could slip into our world in the form of a tiny, helpless child - in an open cave where there was little shelter; and in the stillness of the night when most people were sleeping? Yes, it was so. It would not be true to say that God planned things this way to make it difficult for Joseph and Mary. But it turned out this way due to an unusual event that took place at that time – the census ordered by the Roman Emperor. Unfortunately, Joseph and Mary and their child were not spared the hardships and inconveniences they suffered because of the census. On that night in Bethlehem, nobody had any idea of what was happening, except….

There were shepherds in the fields around the town keeping watch over their flocks by night. Then an angel of the Lord appeared to them and brought them news of what had happened; ‘Today, in the city of David, a Saviour has been born; he is Christ, the Lord.’ He then gave them directions how to go and find the child. They obeyed! And when they found Mary and Joseph and the child – just as they had been told – they in turn told them all that the angel had said to them. Mary treasured all these things in her heart. All that the angel of the Annunciation had told her was being fulfilled – notwithstanding the harsh conditions.

It seems so much like a fairy-tale. A child born in poverty with the promise of a reversal of fortune: he would be called - Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. Our God is a God of surprises.

D.  - God, our Father, open our minds and our hearts to the mystery of your coming among us as man – in the form of a weak, dependent and helpless child.

- Help us to see in the poverty of the manger at Bethlehem a silent invitation to understand the meaning of the Christmas message - a call to care for those who are less privileged than we are. 

- Help us to recognize your coming among us in the presence of those who come to us in unexpected ways – that we may find time to stop and listen to them.

 Finally, I wish all of you a very happy and peaceful Christmas. And may God bless you, your families and friends and all those watching our program this evening.