Catholic Bishop of Banjul His Lordship Most Reverend Patrick Ellison
VOL:1 ISSN: 38 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 light 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 surprise, wonder and curiosity. It seemed as if they were in a trance, totally immersed in the world of that crib and apparently detached from the actual world in which they were standing. You would love to know what was going on in their little minds – trying to figure out the very strange circumstance in which this poor baby was born.
Children have a natural habit of stopping and taking time to look at things that attracts them or touch them in some way. If only we could all grow up without losing that same senses of wonder and awe.
Sometimes, 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 pause and discover something new.
But even now, it is never too late for us to rediscover that need to look at the world around us though the eyes of a child – something as natural for us as breathing in and breathing out. The child inside each of us stays alive as we grow up; but it also 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 and take time to see and listen. ‘Behold, I stand at the door and knock….If one of you hears me calling and opens the door, I will come in to share a meal with him’ (Apoc.3).
B. Each year, the birth of Jesus provides us with a special opportunity to marvel at the massage of the crib.
Luke is the only evangelist who records the events surrounding the birth of Jesus. It is a very simple and a very brief account. When Joseph and Marry arrived in Bethlehem, the time came for Marry to deliver. She brought forth her firstborn, wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manager because there was no room in the hostel.
The Christmas Crib helps us to focus our minds and hearts on the grate mystery which we call the incarnation - the World of God taking flesh in that tiny baby; he is Emmanuel, God-with us. Like Mary, we need to ponder over these things in our hearts:
-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, of no special importance in those days, though it was so at one time. It was the city of King, David, the anointed one of God.
Apart from that Joseph and Mary were unable to find a room that would provide them with the privacy appropriated for the birth of her child. Instead, they were directed to a shepherd’s cave just outside the town. That became the labour ward.
-When did it happen? It was winter time in Palestine – as the Christmas carol reminds us: ‘the snow lay on the ground’. 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 ere in quite silence, and night had run half of her swift course, your all-powerful word, O Lord, leaped down from Heaven, from the royal throne.
Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled: Heaven is joined to earth.
C. who then is this child we are looking at? Is it possible that the Almighty God’ the Eternal Father could slip into our world in the form of a tiny, vulnerable child – in an open cave where there was little shelter, in the stillness of the night when most people were sleeping? But yes, it was so. It would not be true to say that God deliberately planned things this way to make if difficult for Joseph and Mary. But it turned out this way due to the circumstances at that time – the census ordered by the Roman Emperor. And God allowed the events of history to take their normal course. Unfortunately, Joseph and Mary and their child were not spared from the inconveniences and hardship they suffered. 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 angle 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 angle had said to them. Mary treasured and pondered all these things in her heart. All that the angle of the Annunciation had told her was being fulfilled – notwithstanding the awful conditions.
It all seemed so like a fairy-tale a child born in poverty with the promise of a reversal of fortune: wonderful counselor, might God, eternal father, prince of peace. Our God is a God 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 manager at Bethlehem a silent invitation to understand the meaning of the Christmas message: a message of humanity of hope and of love.
Help us to recognise your coming among us in the presence of those who arte truly in need and who come to us in unexpected ways – that we may find time to stop and attend to their needs. God our father, we praise and thank you for all those who stand beside us as together we journey on our pilgrim way each year.
Finally, I wish all of you a very happy and peaceful Christmas. And may God bless you, your families and friends.