The Rt Rev Dr S Tilewa Johnson Bishop of The Gambia

Monday, December 24, 2007
It is always wonderful to celebrate the birth of a baby-a  new person joining the human race.In our culture in Africa our children are central to the family unit; and birth of a baby is an important part of the baby’s rite of passage into the community.

At Christmas we celebrate the birth of a baby born- over 2,000 years ago.This was no ordinary baby,but an important part of Gods saving purpose for His world.The baby was given the name “Jesus” which means “the lord saves”.This name was told to Joseph,to whom Jesus’mother (Mary) was betrothed, by the angel - the messenger of God - when Jesus’ forthcoming birth was announced. The name indicates Jesus’ place as the culmination of God’s saving purpose.

Another name for Christmas is “The Incarnation”. This is the time when we celebrate the fact that our almighty and all-knowing God took the form of a man to live on earth with us for a while. This man was Jesus - the incarnation of God. Jesus was eventually to give his life to save us from sin, and rise from the dead to conquer death and give us a chance of immortality.

Through Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, we have been reconciled with God. The relationship between God and humankind, damaged by sin in the Fall of humankind as reflected in the story of Adam and Eve, has been healed. The name that reflects the act of God in coming to live alongside us is “Immanuel”, or “God with us”. Jesus revals to us the nature of the God whom we worship. As St Paul puts it in his letter to the Colossian Church - “He is the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15). In taking the form of a human being, God honoured our humanity. In the Book of Genesis, we are told that human beings - man and woman - are made in the image of God.

We now reflect upon how the world is saved through God taking human form.

Jesus was fully human and fully divine. We can, therefore, only surmise from all this that human life is sacred; it is to be honoured and respected; and it is to be preserved if at all possible. what does this say about the state of our world, and our responsibilities as inhabitants of this world?

During his earthly ministry Jesus showed great compassion for those who were exploited, marginalised or poor. He said he came to those who were lost. he proclaimed the Kingdom of God, where the will of God would be done and all would live in the presnece of God. When the Kingdom shall come in all its fullness, there shall be no need for fear: fear of want; fear of harm and danger; fear of pain and sickness. The Kingdom is coming, but not yet here in its fullness. The Church is the Body of Christ on earth now. As human beings we all have a responsibility to our neighbour. If we see someone in want, we share what little we have. If there is true injustice, we peacefully point out what this may be, and call for a return to justice for all.

We do not judge. We are called to recognise the image of God in all our fellow human beings, and accept that person as they are. Of course, there has to be order in society, and the law is called to ensure this - with a balance between justice and mercy.

We cannot deny that we see much suffering in our world. It is quite apparent that the sanctity of life is not recognised as it should be.

However, we have the great comfort that our god understands the trials and tribulations we face. He has experienced life on earth as the person, Jesus. He felt, in his own body, the pain of torture and death. He knew what it was to be betrayed by friends. He experienced the extremes of both physical and mental pain.

God is ready and willing to empower us to minister to those who suffer. He is alongside us in our own sufferings. The God who became incarnate in the man, Jesus, more than 2,000 years ago, can become incarnate in our lives today, as we seek to do his will. If we honour God, we must necessarily honour our fellow human being, who is made in the image of God. Archbishop (Emeritus) Desmond Tutu of South Africa used to say that if we are the type of person who bows or kn eels to the light in a church that indicates the presence of God, we should do the same to each person we meet, who also holds the image of God deep within.

Today we celebrate the birth of Jesus, in whom the nature of God was revealed in its fullness; whilst at the same time human nature was seen in all its fullness. Christmas is a good time to reflect upon the mystery of the image of God within each of us. If we abuse our world, and particularly our fellow human being, the image of God in us is hidden, and our humanity is diminished. If we honour and respect our world and fellow human being, this can lead to a culture of peace where God is glorified. If this is undertaken within our close communities, the effect - which will begin in a small area - can spread to the wider community, and even the nation. Just imagine what this could mean for world pace if both leaders and people undertook such an approach of life. By God’s power, it is possible.

This Christmas, let us be inspired by the birth of the baby more than 2,000 years ago. To seek to build peace in our world and within ourselves must be a worthy cause.

May deep and lasting peace and joy be yours this Christmas.

Author: DO