‘HOPE IS FOUND IN THE EXPERIENCES OF ORDINARY PEOPLE’ CHRISTMAS MESSAGE 2019: REV. DERICK A. RICHARDS, BISHOP OF METHODIST CHURCH, SOUTH CARIBBEAN DISTRICT
It is with excitement and a feeling of much hope that I greet you and your family at this season of joy and goodwill. I do so, in the name of Jesus Christ, whose birth and life experience remind us that Hope is not distant or illusory but rather, a real and concrete reality to be found in the experiences of our lives. The South Caribbean District of the Methodist Church and more specifically the Methodist Church in Barbados join Christians around the world in proclaiming and celebrating this Hope to be found in the Christ -Child.
The announcement to ordinary and perhaps obscure hills men, (Luke 2:8-12), that Jesus had been born marginalizes not just the birth of Jesus itself but puts on the periphery of the society all that Jesus would stand for. Luke’s Gospel gives us a glimpse of this as early as in Chapter 4 verse 28 when Jesus was driven out of his home town for making unsavory remarks in the synagogue, about the religious leadership of his day.
The truth is that shepherds were looked down upon. They were considered to be persons of ‘no class’; and were often unable to participate in the Jewish ceremonial laws because the demands of their vocation were just too great. So, to make the announcement to the shepherds of the birth of one expected to be a ‘King’ conjures up a sense and feeling of nothingness; a lowly state, the very opposite of royalty.
To reveal the good news of the birth of Christ to desperate hills men and use them to re-assure Mary and Joseph of the significance of the Christ birth is to upset the configuration of an entire society. To the Jewish hierarchy, Jesus’ birth could not be considered a royal birth. He was born in a stable, of parents of lowly status and without a kingdom. Mark’s gospel Chapter 6 verse 3 puts it this way, ‘Is he not the carpenter, the son of Mary and the brother of James …? Aren’t his sisters here with us? Jesus’ early rejection by the religious and political leaders is therefore closely linked to his family origin and the lowliness of his birth.
To the simple working class men and women however, Jesus’ birth brought new hope and joy. This is what the angel said to the hills men, ‘Don’t be afraid; I am here to give you good news, great joy for all the people. Today a Saviour has been born to you… He is the Messiah and the Lord. Let this be a sign to you; you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger’. It is precisely this simplicity of birth, this message of humility, devoid of today’s pomp and ceremony which gives us an insight into how the Christmas story ought to be celebrated by Christians. It is a reshaping of the community from below. It is the unexpected surprise which changes for good, the outcome of a situation.
The joy of Christmas resides not in having plenty, or in glorifying a culture that is obsessed with an unnecessary set of wants that can easily be disposed when our desires change; but in sharing good news in and with the community. Those tangible, indispensable virtues of peace, goodwill and love. The Shepherds, surprised and springing with a bundle of joy, immediately left their only source of income, made a 70 mile journey to celebrate and share all that they had been told about the birth of Christ, with Mary and Joseph and the rest of the community. This story is the true Christmas story. It is one that summons us to become agents of good news even in the midst of overwhelming social and economic discontent, increased gun-related violence and what can easily be considered reprisals of various kinds in our societies. The Good News is that Hope begins with the possibility that another and better way is possible.
As we look towards the future do not allow the socio- economic challenges to make you afraid. Be assured that many of the solutions rest with ordinary people like you and me. God is in the business of using ordinary people to do extraordinary things. Let us therefore commit ourselves to change all that which is not in keeping with God’s holy will in our midst by becoming agents of peace, harmony and reconciliation and by forgetting the petty differences which hinder the common good.
The Methodist community promises you our prayers in a very special way during this great season of the Holy Nativity. May the Gracious God, who has gifted us with His Son, bless you and your family now and always.