“Tidings of Comfort and Joy” CHRISTMAS MESSAGE 2021: REV. DERICK A. RICHARDS, PRESIDENT – METHODIST CHURCH, SOUTH CARIBBEAN DISTRICT

I want to begin by wishing you all a very Merry Christmas! This is normally a time of year when families and friends gather in a spirit of joy and hope, however, to celebrate this year as we have in the past will be difficult if not impossible.

This Christmas arrives against a backdrop of much pain, sorrow, and uncertainty in the world. No doubt, you may have grown a little weary, and with good reason since after two years we are still in the midst of the most challenging crisis of modern times, the Covid-19 pandemic. Many persons have suffered in the wake of this pandemic, whether through contracting Covid-19, the loss of loved ones, or from the consequences of national pauses and restrictions, including the loss of employment, delayed access to other medical care, a rise in cases of mental health issues, drug overdoses, fear and anxiety, and separation from those closest to us. While vaccinations and boosters have made a difference, the pandemic remains a constant concern, never far from our thoughts.

Other significant events compounded our reality here in Barbados, namely the impact of ash fall from the explosive eruption of the La Soufriere volcano in neighbouring St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and the passage of hurricane Elsa, the first hurricane to directly hit Barbados in 66 years, which served to exacerbate our anxiety over the global climate crisis. Therefore, as we enter the Christmas celebrations, “tidings of comfort and joy,” could not be a more appropriate prayer for our world in general and our nation. The composer of the song is unknown, but the song says…

God rest ye merry, gentlemen, let nothing you dismay,
remember Christ our Savio
ur was born on Christmas day,
to save us all from Satan’s power when we were gone astray,
O tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy,
O tidings of comfort and joy.

This carol was first published in 1833 in Britain. The society then, characterized with its orphanages, its poor houses, its debtor prisons, and other forms of evils, embodied a cold-heartedness aptly reflected in the character ‘Ebenezer Scrooge’. We often think of the ‘merry’ as meaning happy, but ‘merry’ at the time the song was written did not mean easy, superficial happiness but rather meant “great or mighty”.  Similarly, the word “rest” does not mean sleep but keep or make. To wish someone a Merry Christmas lifted them from the drudgery of life, from the struggles, the disappointments, and the pain, to the realms of the sacred. A Merry Christmas meant a Christmas blessed by God. If we insert this translation into the song it would read: “God make you mighty, gentlemen let nothing you dismay. Remember Christ, our Saviour, was born on Christmas day. To save us all from Satan’s power when we were gone astray. O tidings of comfort and joy, comfort, and joy. O tidings of comfort and joy”. Our tidings of comfort and joy reside in Jesus Christ who was born to save us from Satan’s power.

On this Christmas Day, I say to all citizens and residents of Barbados, and especially those who have worked so hard during the year to keep us safe and to provide goods and services – God rest to you, blessed gentlemen and gentlewomen, let nothing dismay you, for Jesus Christ is born – oh tidings of comfort and joy – oh tidings of comfort and joy.

The familiar Scripture passages of the Christmas story contain many themes, including: “Do not be afraid”. The shepherds as well as Mary, Joseph, and Zechariah all needed this reassurance from the angels.

“But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news
that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in a town of David a
Saviour has been born to you, he is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:10-11).

We are therefore assured and are reminded that Jesus does not abandon us. He is Emmanuel – God with us – to satisfy the deepest longings of our hearts, lift us from our weariness, and be the hope we so desperately need.  Without the Incarnation, we would truly be lost in our grief, our sin and our despair, but with the Incarnation there is always hope, there is always light in the darkness, there is always a way forward! This beloved Christmas carol is truly more like a prayer that God will keep joy in our hearts, and that despite our circumstances we can find peace. What a timely message indeed!

These challenging times have also provided us with the opportunity to exercise our faith. We have witnessed acts of profound kindness and creative ingenuity that remind us of the inherent good within us. We have helped and taken care of each other. We are watching many churches, including ours, prove themselves to be incredibly adaptable, flexible, and resilient.

I take this opportunity to wish everyone, a blessed Christmas filled with love and joy, and a happy and peaceful New Year. The Methodist Church of Barbados assures you of our continued prayers during this season of the Holy Nativity and beyond. Please know that you are in my thoughts and prayers, and the thoughts and prayers of the people called Methodists.

Shalom!

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