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NEW YEAR MESSAGE 2012 from The Methodist Mission

Jan 3, 2012, 2:54 PM | Article By: The Right Reverend Professor William Peter Stephens Bishop of The Gambia

At the beginning of this New Year, let me join others in wishing you ‘A Happy New Year’. I do it as the Methodist Bishop of the Gambia in the name of Almighty God and on behalf of the Methodist Church in The Gambia.

There are many people for whom the year 2011 has not been a happy year. If you think only of those you know in The Gambia, there are those who have lost their job, or lost their health, or lost a parent, or lost a child. They will be glad that the old year has ended and hope that the New Year will be a happier one.

If you go beyond The Gambia, you will think of many for whom 2011 has not been a happy year. Think of the nuclear disaster and the tsumani in Japan, the suicide bombings in Pakistan and Afghanistan, the suppression of popular risings across the Arab world, and the many deaths in the Ivory Coast and the Democratic Republic of the Congo during and following their elections.

In many of these cases you and I can do very little. They are too far away to help, except through prayer and through sending aid. But when we come to The Gambia and to the places where we live and work, we can do something, we can make a difference. Here we can say A Happy New Year and mean it.

Let me begin by saying that there is something exciting about the word ‘new’. A new home, a new job, a new car, a new friend, a new baby. What is old is not forgotten, but the word ‘new’ suggests a fresh start, with the hope that we can put some things behind us and begin again. That indeed is true when we rise every morning and begin a new day, but it is especially true on New Year’s Day. We even go round wishing everyone ‘A Happy New Year’.

The past year may or may not have been a happy one for you, but you want the New Year to be a happy one, not just for yourself, but for others. That is why you wish them, ‘A Happy New Year’. Yet the question I want you to answer is not ‘Will you wish people a happy new year’, but will you make it for them a happy new year?

How about your family? Will you make it happy for them? I don’t mean necessarily by giving them presents, but for example by being understanding, by being generous with your time or with your help, by forgiving or by accepting forgiveness, by putting others first and not yourself. Wishing someone a happy new year is not just a matter of words, but a matter of attitude and of the acts that flow out of the right attitude.

I begin with your home and your family, as that is where we spend most of our time. After our home, we probably spend most of our time at work. What does it mean then to say A Happy New Year at work, not just to your colleagues with whom you work but also to the people for whom you work.

You get a clue if you remember that your work is not just a job for your benefit, in other words, to give you enough money to live on. It is also a job for the benefit of others – indeed, it is first and foremost a job for the benefit of others. God has so created the world that we rely on each other to meet our various human needs. We need the doctor, the dentist, the nurse, and the midwife. We need the soldier, the police officer, the civil servant, the government minister. I could go on until I had mentioned every single job that everyone in The Gambia does, but those few examples are enough. We have doctors and nurses for the support of patients, not patients for the support of doctors and nurses. We have government ministers and civil servants for the support of the people, not the people for the support of ministers and civil servants.

You may not have noticed that the word service or ministry is one way of describing many of these jobs. Those in high office in government and in the church are called ministers, that is servants. Those who work for government are called civil servants. Those who work in the army, the police, the prisons work for what are called the armed services, the police service, the prison service. What might it mean for them, for you, not just to say A Happy New Year, but to make it A Happy New Year.

For ministers in government and in the church, making it a happy New Year means recognizing that you are there to serve – not yourself, but others. You are there to see that we have good schools and good hospitals not just for the few, but for all. You will ask at the end of the day, “Have I done all I could today to make life better and fairer? Have I served not just this or that group, this or that region, but all the people of The Gambia, especially those in greatest need?’’

For civil servants making it a happy new year, means serving those you deal with, not ignoring, evading, or disrespecting them. I know as many know, how many months, not to say years, it may take for a government department to deal with a request, even when the request is manifestly for the good of the people of The Gambia. For civil servants making it a happy new year will mean working hard to make things happen today, not this year , next year or, as some might say, , some time, never.

For the police service making it a happy new year will mean showing restraint and respecting people even when you are dealing with those who are difficult. It will mean not taking a bribe and certainly not asking for one. It will mean treating the poor and the weak as courteously as you treat the rich and the powerful.

For the prison service, making it a happy new year will mean that you are not employed to punish or exploit, but to serve those in prison. It means that the conditions of their cells, their lavatories, their leisure areas, are as you would wish for yourself. It means recognising  that prisoners and their families are made in the image of God and that if you abuse or exploit or ill treat them you abuse God Himself.

All that we do whether we are doctors or nurses,  teachers or shopkeepers, builders or drivers, is done for the good of others. It is part of our service of God. If we wish people, as we should, A Happy New Year, it will mean enabling those people to benefit whom we are there to serve – our patients, our schoolchildren, our customers, our clients, our passengers. As we recognize this, we shall see that wishing people A Happy New Year is not just a quick and easy greeting which we forget as soon as we have said it. It means seeking to make the year a happy one for those whom God has appointed us to serve.

For all this we have the wonderful example of Jesus Himself. From His humble birth in Bethlehem to His willingness to die on the cross for us, His life was one of service. Indeed, He Himself said that He came not to be served, but to serve, and to give His life for others. All this is expressed vividly on the last night of His life, when He took a towel and a basin of water and washed the feet of His disciples. As we follow Him, He gives us the strength more and more to live as He lived.

You may think that all this is very demanding – and, of course, it is. But that is why at the end of the old year and the beginning of the new one we turn to God.

On New Year’s Eve in the Methodist Church we hold a Watch night Service. In it we give thanks to God for the year that is past and confess where we have failed Him – and we commit the year ahead to Him, seeking His help.

Then on the first Sunday of the year, which this year is the first of January we have a Covenant Service. In it we affirm that God in His love has called us to be His people and we in turn commit ourselves to serve Him and others in the words, ‘I am no longer my own, but Yours.’

As I wish you ‘A Happy New Year’, I pray that you and I will make it a happy new year for those in our home and those whom we serve in our work.