CHRISTMAS MESSAGE 2018
Christmas is here again affording us an opportunity to reflect on the mystery of God’s Word taking human flesh and pitching its tent amongst us. We read from the Gospel according to John: The Word became flesh and dwelt amongst us. We saw his glory, the glory as the only Son of the Father (Jn 1:14). God intervened in our human history when His Word took flesh and dwelt amongst us. We celebrate this magnanimous and yet incomprehensible event at the nativity of our Lord Jesus at Christmas. I wish to look at Christmas from two perspectives: What Christmas does to God and what it (Christmas) does to us. To appreciate the usefulness of this event, we must first appraise our human situation.
The human person is created with a divine character and whose first gift, received from God the Creator, is blessing in abundance – blessed to increase, multiply, fill the earth and subdue it (Gen 1:28). As we look forward to the birth of the Saviour, I wish to call your attention to the Ghanaian, whose living condition, unfortunately, denies him of a sure taste of the original goodness of God’s creation.
Let us connect with the Ghanaian who cannot afford a good meal a day or meet up his or her medical bills because of economic poverty; let us be mindful of the Ghanaian who has to walk an incredible distance to access basic education or medical care or walks to collect water from the polluted stream to prepare their meals or to drink and for other household chores. Let us not forget the Ghanaian who has no decent classroom and has to do their schooling in a dilapidated structure. Let us also focus on the many people in the remote villages who are literally cut off from the rest of the people of Ghana due to roads broken and indeed inaccessible. We wish to get close to these different categories of people because we can’t genuinely celebrate Christmas without connecting with them.
I went to Prestea a few months ago. People from the surrounding villages came in their numbers to welcome me and celebrate the Sunday Mass with their Bishop. They came from villages such as Asomase, Kroboline, Bonsokrom and Brepo. I thanked God for them, for their deep commitment and deep faith. But I was disturbed, indeed sad, because many of them had walked miles on poor and unmotorable roads. They prayed a simple prayer, “God, be kind to us and help our politicians to not forget us”. The addressed warm words of welcome to me and asked me to speak with government officials about them. These people are not mere vote-casters but people who, like people in different parts of our country, also deserve good roads, decent schools and health facilities and other basic social amenities that make life worth-living, for “what is good for the goose is also good for the gander”.
Last Sunday, I went to a village in the district of Samreboi called Mumuni. People came from different villages around Mumuni and we all congregated in Mumuni for the Sunday celebration. People who came from villages beyond Mumuni told me they feel have been completely forgotten by the government of our country. Like the people of villages around Prestea, they also want their situation to be told to government officials. Their major complaint was about their roads. They said that before the last election, the government had started rehabilitating their road from Samreboi. The rehabilitation ended at a village which used to be called Woman No Good but now for gender sensitivity, is called No Good. Villages beyond No Good need help because nothing has happened to their roads since the change of government as a result of the last election.
I have cited only two situations which I believe are representative of the many forgotten places and people in our country. We all must be in a hurry to help change the situation. It starts from you and from me, with our commitment, our honesty, and indeed our selflessness. Government officials, please, hasten to bring dignity to these our brothers and sisters. People of goodwill, endowed with the goods of the earth, open your hearts to meet these people and help restore their lives with goodness and harmony. Christmas reminds us of how dignified we are as creatures of God. We cannot sincerely celebrate Christmas if we disregard our fellow human beings.
Christmas is a feast of sharing. Can you imagine how God in His infinite greatness and inexhaustible richness emptied Himself to take on our human flesh in all its frailty and limitation and with all its pain? This is the self-emptying the Apostle Paul spoke of: Though in the form of God, Jesus did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself and took on the form of a slave and became human as we are (Phil 2:6-7). This is what God does to Himself at Christmas; He empties Himself of His abundant riches and takes on our human poverty. The Church Fathers taught us that “God became human so that we humans might become divine”. Christmas is a divine exchange. God takes on our human weakness and enriches us with divine wealth.
Intending to take a collection from the better resourced people and churches in Macedonia to help the poorly resourced church in Jerusalem, Paul wrote to the Corinthians to remind them of the generosity of Christ in order to compel them to give generously, “You are aware of the generosity/grace which our Lord Jesus had, that although he was rich, he became poor for your sake, so that you should become rich through his poverty” (2 Cor 8:9). God sending His Son is for our transformation, for our divinization. And indeed, this is how he created us, “in His image and likeness” (Gen 1:27). The Psalmist abundantly sings this great mystery of man and, at the same time, the majesty of God: How great is your name of Lord our God, through all the earth. When I look at the heavens and see the moon and stars which you arranged, what is man that you should keep him in mind, mortal man that you care for him. Yet you made him little less than a god and crowned him with honour and glory (Ps 8). My dear people; Such is “the many-sided, the manifold, wisdom of God” (Eph 3:10), an expression of love “beyond knowledge” (Eph 3:19) freely revealed in His Son Jesus through whom we gain our courage to “approach God in complete confidence” (Eph 3:12). This is what Christmas does for us. It brings God into us and brings us into God. It is a feast of complete sharing. Those who celebrate Christmas are people who are ready to share from their resources, from themselves, purposefully to lighten the burden of poverty and suffering of their fellow human beings.
Christmas is a feast of restoration. When the angel told Joseph about the imminent birth of God’s Son, he told Joseph to name the child “Jesus” for he will save his people from their sins (Mt 1:21). “He will save” is, therefore, an interpretation /definition of the name “Jesus”. The name “Jesus” encapsulates his mission as Saviour. Jesus comes to save us. Paul in his letter to the Galatians says that in the fullness of time, God sent his Son to redeem us who are subjects of the Law so that we could receive adoption as sons (Gal 4:5). What does Paul mean here? Our human situation is tainted with the evil of sin and fear. Fear is that deep-seated wound that causes the anxiety, unhappiness, distress and the discontentment we experience as human beings. It cripples us and puts us off balance. Sin is that choice we make that manifest itself in different forms such as violence, greed, lust, etc. bringing disorder into our personhood. Sin disturbs the harmony of human relationship and of creation and damages the integrity of the person created in God’s image and likeness. The story of the Fall of man in the garden of Eden (cf. Gen 3) is indeed the reversal of the goodness and order with which God created the world and humanity. Jesus our Saviour comes into the scene to restore fallen humanity to our original grace. This is what Christmas does to us.
Let us celebrate Christmas thinking of what we can do to ease the situation of the abandoned, the marginalized, the forgotten, the sick, the aged, the needy, etc. Let us celebrate Christmas taking a positive stand in support of the human person, in order to bring to an end whatever diminishes the dignity of the human person. Let us celebrate Christmas by making a sincere commitment of sharing with the hungry, the thirsty, the naked and the poor. Let us celebrate Christmas by doing everything that will allow us to live life to the full.
I wish you a merry Christmas and a happy New Year.
Most Rev. John Bonaventure Kwofie
Catholic Bishop, Diocese of Sekondi-Takoradi