Tuesday, September 28, 2010


From Reverend Norman A. Grigg - President of the Methodist Conference of the Methodist Church The Gambia

VOL:1 ISSN:39 It’s my pleasure and privilege to bring you Christmas greeting from the Methodist church in The Gambia and to wish you peace and joy on this day, when Christmas throughout the world are celebrating the birth of Jesus.
For some it may seem inappropriate to be celebrating anything against a background of recession, of fears about climate change and with war and conflict raring in many countries throughout the world but the message of Christmas is a massage of hope and faith even in a world such as ours, because essentially it is about the belief that God, the creator of the universe, has come alongside us and shared our human life and that is a reason for celebration even in the darkest days.
But faith is not as one six year old child describes it “as believing things that aren’t true”, the Christian faith in the Christmas story deals with the real World and God’s engagement with it in real time and real space and through real people.

During the Christmas season, Christian churches every where will sing the familiar songs and hear again the story of how a baby was born in Bethlehem who was to be the savior of the world. I guest that even if you are not a Christian you will have heard some of the well known Christmas carols and I would like to refer to three which will be sung in practically every church this year again- “Away In A Manger”, “O Come All Ye Faithful” and Hark The Herald Angels Sing”. It’s true that sometimes when we are singing we don’t always listen carefully to the words and in these three carols are a few lines that I would like you to think about in terms of the reality of the Christmas message.

‘Away In A Manger’ was written for children – Away in a manger, no crib for a bed, the little lord Jesus lay down his sweet head’ - in very simple terms it describe the scene when Jesus was born. Joseph and Mary had gone to Bethlehem for the census but they couldn’t find a room to stay and because Mary was about to give birth they had to take up the offer of a cattle shed for their night rest and that where the baby was born.
The birth happened in the place usually used by animals and in the second verse of the carols this is referred to – ‘The cattle are lowing, the baby awakes but little lord Jesus no crying he makes’.
And it’s the words ‘no crying he makes’; I’d like you to think about. Now I don’t know you but I have yet to come across a baby that doesn’t cry! Can you imagine a new born baby walking up, hungry and with the noise and smell of the animals in the same room not making a sound?
I know it’s only a song and a beautiful one at that, and I know you have to allow poetic licence but the fact is that babies cry - maybe not 24hours a day but if we imagine that Jesus, whom we claim to be at fully human, wouldn’t cry at all, than we haven grasped an essential truth of this story which is that Jesus is a real human being.
Mind you there’s another carol that gives the other side of the picture when in “Once In Royal David’s City” it says ‘tears and smiles like us he knew’.

“O Come All Ye Faithful” is the most sung Christmas carol and in its first verse asks ‘faithful people’ to make the journey to Bethlehem – ‘Come ye, O come ye to Bethlehem, Come and behold Him, born the King of Angels’. Presumably there is a reference here to those who actually made the journey to Bethlehem to see the new born baby who as the Bible states were the shepherds and later on the Wise Men.
The Shepherds were the ordinary working men, who were looking after the sheep in the field when they saw and heard the angel and then left their job to go to see what the angels had been telling them about.
In a sense they would not be classified by the majority of their contemporaries as ‘the faithful’ because, as they were always up in the hill looking the sheep they wouldn’t have been able to fulfill all the regular rituals of the faith. The Wise Men, who were most probably astrologers from what we now know as Iraq were not Jews at all, they were men outside the covenant people of God.
Throughout his ministry Jesus was always going to people who were considered ‘outsiders’ – tax collector, the sick and the sinners. Those who would have classed themselves as ‘the faithful’ were the ones who became upset about all this and in the plotted to kill him.
Again to me, this brings home the reality of the Christian message that none of us is out side the love of God and we could almost sing, ‘O Come all ye faithless’, as those who claim to be faithful but only just performed the rituals of faith were not those who always saw the message of Jesus clearly.
More often hose who made no claim at all about their religious qualities yet realized their imperfection were the ones who benefited most from Jesus’s ministry of healing and forgiveness.

This year, President Barrack Obama receive the Nobel Peace Prize – a prestigious award which in the past has been receive by such great people as Martin Luther King Junior, Mother Theresa of Calcutta and Nelson Mandela. In his acceptance speech, President Obama acknowledged that he was receiving this prize ‘at the beginning and not at the end of his labours on the world stage’ and that his achievements, compared to some of those who had previously won the award, ‘were slight’.
The Carol ‘Hark The Herald Angels Sing’ is based on the proclamation of peace made by the angels to the shepherds and the words of the song are ‘Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinner reconciled’.
If President Obama was receiving a prize for peace before he had achieve peace, just think of how ago the Angels promise it and some would claim that they were making a promised that hasn’t yet been fulfilled. When Jesus was born the land was occupied by the Romans and I expect that the shepherds, like many others, through that Peace could only come when a Warrior King took command and drove the Romans out. Yet, instead of a warrior they saw an unprotected baby, not a warrior king. God’s glory would be evidenced not by apparent weakness and vulnerability.
The Peace that God offers doesn’t take us out the real world of tension and conflict but enables us to have peace when we feel at peace within ourselves. Saint Augustine once said ‘our hearts are restless until they find their rest in God’ - and maybe we could add ‘we will have peace when our hearts have peace with God’.

I hope that you enjoy this Christmas Season and if you hear any carols being sung listen carefully to the words and see if you can find the reality that Christian would maintain about the fact that Jesus, a real human being who cried and laughed just like us, also reveals the real presence of God and that no-one-faithful or faithless – is excluded from discovering his presence today and that peace can be achieve in our world, in our communities and in our families once it has been found within ourselves.
May you find that peace and may you have a very HAPPY CHRISTMAS.

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