Christmas Message 2019

For an increasing number of persons in our contemporary world, the Christmas story of the birth of the Christ Child has become so commonplace that they have opted to focus, instead, on the tangential aspects of the celebration. 

These include, for example, Christmas music, rather than the traditional hymns and carols; the festivities and social gatherings; the politically correct form of greeting during the Season, namely, “Happy Holidays”; and the enjoyment of the vacation days. 

For others, there is a spirit of cynicism which sees much of the Christian observance of the Season, with its charitable expressions, as a hypocritical once per year focus, and so, they move toward a position of disengagement.

And yet, like so much of the Judeo-Christian Scripture, the narrative which is at the heart of the Christian celebration of Christmas still has the power to engage, challenge, and confront those who would seek to give attention to the divine initiative and revelation of love, compassion, and hope which constitute the core of the Christmas story.

This Season calls us to perceive and to experience God in human form, as both as both his divinity and his humanity come together in the birth and life of Jesus.

For those in our world who have great regard for status, power and wealth, the birth of Jesus, affirmed by Christians as the manifestation of the initiative of God, in a Palestinian setting among a colonized people, has no appeal and constitutes what has often been referred to as “the scandal of particularity.” This response implies that God should have chosen a more appealing channel to reveal Himself to be really credible.

Instead, the birth narrative in St. Luke 2:1-14, focuses on an ordinary couple which is anticipating the birth of a baby and who find themselves displaced by the orders of the ruling authority, King Herod, who has his own agenda, and consequently, causes them to be on the move when the time comes for the birth of the baby. Their plight is similar to that of the many millions of persons today who are  refugees fleeing decrees or actions by authorities in their own land or by external rulers.

Like the displaced people in our world today, Mary and Joseph search desperately for the hospitality that would allow a decent birth for their child.  Yet, there is no welcome awaiting them.  They are relegated to a place with the animals.  Not only is it an unhealthy environment; it is also a symbolic statement of the worth and value attributed to them.

Daily we see on television the inhumane treatment meted out to displaced persons on the Syrian border with Turkey as they seek to enter Europe; and coming closer home, the migrants from Venezuela and those making the trek from Latin America to the Mexican borders with the United States of America. Most of these are people of colour who have historically been told that they are inferior and who, as a consequence, face zenophobia, racism and social conditions not unlike that of life among the animals.

However, we need not look only for migratory movements to see the marginalized, the excluded and the vulnerable, or turn away our glance in self-righteous vindication, because they are present in our own local and national communities. We need to identify these persons and assess how central they are to the mission of our congregations and our individual witness as disciples of Jesus Christ.

The Old Testament reading for Christmas Day from Isaiah 9:2-7 portrays the reality of life for the Jews under Roman rule, as well as the hope which was nurtured in that context, and which found fulfillment in the birth of Jesus.

The people who walked in darkness
    have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness—
    on them light has shined.
You have multiplied the nation,
    you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
    as with joy at the harvest…

For a child has been born for us,
    a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
    and he is named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

This passage in its original context is one of hope for the people of Israel who had passed through some very difficult and seemingly hopeless times in their life, including displacement, forced migration and exile. It is into this scene, not of power, wealth or social standing and influence that God’s messengers bring the word of good news, hope and peace in the birth of the Christ child.  His coming represents the hopes and dreams which a people had cherished for generations.

What may these hopes and dreams look like for us in our day?  We who acknowledge our affinity with that child, who grew to manhood, and who we claim as Lord of our lives, are called to be the agents and incarnate instruments of the  good news of Christmas in a world in which the marginalized, excluded and the vulnerable still exist; and who see little prospect for themselves and their children coming to experience the joy and peace which the messengers of God announced. 

We are being challenged, if Christmas is not to become clothed in the garment in which cynics have adorned and rejected it, to truly become agents, not just by preaching a gospel that speaks of personal sin, but one which embodies in its adherents actions which can transform the life of the marginalized, the excluded and the vulnerable, so that they along with the angels, and with us, may join this Christmas in the heavenly chorus which speaks of good news, joy and peace.

May this experience of good news, joy, and peace, attend you and your loved ones this Christmas and throughout the coming year.

The Most Rev. Dr. Howard K. A. Gregory

Archbishop of the West Indies, Primate & Metropolitan

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