Before the birth of the Child Jesus at Christmas, we spent four weeks of Advent preparing ourselves so that we will be spiritually renewed and worthy to celebrate his birth and welcome him into our lives, homes, and communities. We used some of our resources to purchase what we need for the feast. We also decorated our houses and churches with Christmas decorations that befit our celebration of Christ’s birth. Now we are ready to participate in the Eucharist on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day and celebrate the nativity of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Then we enjoy our gifts, meals, time, and festivity with our families, relatives, friends, neighbors, and well-wishers.
These activities are obviously recommended, appropriate, useful, and meaningful. But they often distract and hinder us from remembering and appreciating the main reason why the Child Jesus was even born by the Virgin Mary in the harsh conditions of a manger. For that reason, I will focus my Christmas message on God’s unconditional love and solidarity with us. The Child Jesus was born in Bethlehem and shared our human nature and hardship precisely because God loved us so much that he gave us his only Son. This message is clearly presented in Jn.3:16 and it is the summary and heart of St. John’s Gospel. But I will emphasize these words of Jesus in my Christmas message so that we will remember and appreciate why Jesus was born and why we celebrate his birthday and abiding presence in our daily lives.
As Christians and believers, we have different ideas and convictions about God because God is a mystery we cannot fully understand and describe in human language. Secondly, we experience him differently based on our background, faith- formation, situation, and vocation in life. For that reason, we have various names, attributes, and qualities to identify God and define his nature. But as mysterious, manifold, and infinite God is, he revealed and continues to manifest himself in creation, the Scriptures, incarnation of Jesus at Christmas, the sacraments of the Church, and the daily events of our lives. We are told in Heb.1:1-2 that, “in many and various ways, God spoke to our fathers through the prophets. But in these last days, he has spoken to us by his Son.” This indicates that it is in and through Jesus whose birth we celebrate today that we come to fully experience and understand who God really is and what he demands from us. The Scriptures is also a reliable source of our knowledge of God’s nature and relationship with humanity throughout our history of salvation. We are clearly informed in 1Jn.4:7-8 that God is love and his love was made manifest when he sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. This statement perfectly defines and represents who God is. It also summarizes everything we should know about God and what he has done for us in Jesus Christ. Our God is love itself in his nature and in relation to us. He cannot, for that reason, be anything else or do something that is contrary to love itself. God’s creation of the world and humanity and his manifestations in human history were, therefore, done out of love in accordance with his nature.
The birth of Jesus Christ in our midst as God’s gift to humanity fully illustrates that God is love. God is love itself for his Son to take flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary and become a human being like us, in order to, save us from the forces of sin, evil, and death. Otherwise, God would not have offered and sacrificed his only Son as a gift to us if he was not a loving God to sinful humanity. He would, rather, be indifferent and insensitive to our fate and burden under the power of the evil one. But he is a God of love so he inherently loved us and offered us his Son in the mystery of the incarnation purely out of love. When he assured his chosen people in Isa. 9:6-7 that a child will be born and a son given to them and he will be called Wonder-Counsellor, Mighty-God, Eternal-Father, and Prince -of-Peace, he declared that, “from this time onwards and forever, the jealous love of the Lord of Hosts will do this.” God was, therefore, determined to give them his Son as their savior based on his innate and jealous love for them. Our celebration of Christ’s birth at Christmas and his presence in our lives are realities for us today precisely because God is love. The feast of Christmas is, in that sense, a celebration of God’s nature and being as a God of love. At the same time, an appreciation of God’s love for us in offering us his only Son as our Savior. So, our attention and interest during this Christmas season should always be on God’s love for us that he revealed in his Son.
When God created us, enriched us with gifts and talents, and offered us his Son Jesus Christ, he unconditionally loved us forever. None of us can, therefore, claim that he or she is not loved, blessed, and renewed by God. For, God’s love is unconditional, everlasting, boundless, and impartial. Each and every one of us is, therefore, loved by God and we also experience God’s love for us in our daily lives regardless of our race, culture, tribe, religion, status, and personality. So, there is no partiality and discrimination about God’s love. He makes his sun rise on the evil and the good alike and he sends rain on the just and unjust alike as Jesus testified in Mt.5:45. We do not, for that reason, deserve or merit God’s love as a result of our background and position in life. God’s love, grace, and mercy for us is completely gratuitous and unmerited because it is not based on our conduct and actions in life. He freely loved each and every one of us without any condition and requirement on our part. His unconditional love for us is what the Child Jesus now personifies for us. St. Paul emphasized this in Titus 3:4. He said, “when the compassion and love of God our Savior for humankind were revealed in Jesus Christ, it was not because he was concerned with any righteous actions we might have done ourselves … but for us to be justified by his grace and become heirs of his eternal life.”
If God generously loved us so much that he gave us the Child Jesus, his only Son, as our Lord and Savior, we should equally love God in response to his love and gift of his Son. Our joyous and grateful response to God’s love for us is what we should express at Christmas and in our daily lives. We should sincerely manifest our love for God and offer him what we treasure in our lives in appreciation of the gift of his divine Son. This was why the practice of offering and sharing gifts at Christmas was introduced in the Church’s celebration of Christ’s birth. It was intended for Christians and believers to present their treasured gifts to God in return for his unconditional love and gift of his Son. Unfortunately, the focus and emphasis on God is less evident now than in the past. What is more prominent and even mandatory for many in our age is buying and sharing gifts and goods just for family members, relatives, friends, neighbors, and business associates. But we should never ignore the reason why we celebrate Christmas and our responsibility to express our gratitude to God for his unconditional love for us in the Child Jesus. We therefore, have an opportunity on Christmas day and throughout this season to practice and live out the commandment of love. We should love God as he loved us in Jesus Christ and also love one another as brothers and sisters in Christ. This is rightly practiced by many Christians and believers and I highly commend them but I encourage others to imitate their religious and noble example.
On this day we celebrate the birth of the Child Jesus, the incarnate love of God for us, so many innocent people around our world today are suffering, oppressed, abandoned, and deprived of basic goods, services, and necessities in life. They are living in desperation, uncertainty, isolation, and danger of persecution. Their hopes and aspirations are completely shattered and their lives are worthless and meaningless because of their horrific experience in life. Others are denied their legal rights and fair share of the opportunities they deserve and the resources of their countries and organizations. Even innocent children are also victimized, abused, and subjected to hardship and destitution. The cost of living for ordinary and low-income families in The Gambia and around the world is equally a burden to them. These tragic and dreadful conditions are surely unacceptable and should never be permitted in our world today. For, the human race is more informed, enriched, technically developed, and inventive than ever before. But the poor, vulnerable, sick, weak, and minority groups continue to endure these inhumane and hostile conditions in spite of the resources and progress of our world today. Yet, it is in these tragic conditions of our world that the Child Jesus is born in solidarity with the poor, oppressed, and abandoned, in order to, save them from the forces of sin and evil. So, God’s love for his people who are enduring the effects of war, violence, hatred, poverty, and inequality in our world today is clearly expressed and confirmed in Jesus Christ.
As we celebrate the birth of the Child Jesus at Christmas in our various homes, situations, states, activities, and experience in life, I invite each and every one of us to fully understand and believe that God loves us so much that he gave us his only Son, Jesus as our Lord and savior. God’s unconditional love for us in Jesus Christ is the main reason why we Christians and believers are required to celebrate Christmas in a joyful, grateful, and festive fashion. We should not, therefore, lose faith and hope in God who is love. Nor should we assume that God is indifferent to our respective situations and experiences in life even when we are desperate, troubled, despised, rejected, and discriminated. So, I take this opportunity to wish all the priests, deacons, religious, seminarians, and lay faithful of the Diocese of Banjul, as well as, our dear brothers and sisters in Christ, our Muslim friends and well-wishers of all faiths, and Gambians at home and abroad a joyful, inspiring, and meaningful Christmas celebration. May we all experience in our lives, homes, and country the peace, love, and compassion of God that he perfectly revealed in the Child Jesus now born in our midst today. Amen.
Your Servant in Christ,
Most Rev. Dr. Gabriel Mendy C.S.Sp.
Catholic Bishop of the Diocese of Banjul, The Gambia.