Christmas Message from the Anglican Bishop of Barbados, Michael Maxwell.
Dear Barbadians and visitors to our nation, I greet you on this Christmas day that is described by many across the world as the most wonderful day of the year, when Christians commemorate the Nativity (the birth) of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.
If there is a word that captures the essence or soul of Christmas it is the word “JOY;” and this is so simply because Christmas celebrates that great act of God making a way for us to once again experience joy in our lives; a joy that was lost due to sin, which brought tremendous pain and sorrow to humanity and our world.
Joy is an internal, lasting and satisfying state of being, stirred up within our souls, due to our awareness of the abiding presence of our Creator God, His love and care for us that fills our hearts in a unique and special way. Joy is that gift of God’s Holy Spirit within us that keeps us ever faithful and hopeful even when times are rough and uncertain. It is this joy that God has sought to restore in our lives and in our world through the coming of His Son Jesus Christ.
Some of us are no doubt experiencing some measure of joy or happiness today because we have completed our shopping, the renovating or decorating of our homes, and there is the excitement and anticipation of being with family and friends to exchange gifts, share fellowship and to enjoy good food, including black cake and ham, and washing it down with a glass of sorrel or punch-a-crème.
However, as important and necessary as these times of togetherness are that make us happy, I’m hoping that we will encounter the true joy of Christmas driven by an awareness and celebration of the reason for the season – that the God of our Universe entered our world, in the person of His Son to offer the way that leads to a life of righteousness, peace, joy and love.
It is true that for some of us, the hardship that is still present in our nation and world, may have diminished the joy or even happiness in our lives this Christmas; and we are wondering how can we be joyful when faced with the challenges of unemployment, an inability to pay our bills or meet the high cost of living. How are we to smile and be joyful when illness maybe robbing us of good health or has robbed us of yet another loved one; or when gun violence has been causing us to live in fear?
Well, I will share with you that joy is not the same thing as happiness. Happiness depends on external factors or conditions, on things and people, and is only temporary; while joy depends on the condition of our heart. As much as all of us would like to be always happy, it is more important for us to seek after the joy that only God can give and desires us to experience as we remain ever mindful of His love and compassion, His promises and faithfulness, and His presence and providence that cheer our hearts.
The true joy God offers only enters our hearts when we have personally perceived, accepted, and responded, to this nature and love of God by placing our lives in His care and building a trusting and loving relationship with Him. To choose joy this day and every day is to choose God and to open ourselves to the possibilities He has for our lives – to follow closely the way of life, and of love, revealed through the very One whose birth we celebrate today. How we choose, whether to abide with or without God in having Jesus as our companion and counsellor (today or in the year or years to come), will determine whether or not we possess that inner joy.
On this Christmas Day, as individuals and as a nation, we are called to experience that great joy, first encountered by Mary and Joseph, the angels, the shepherds and the wise men, who recognized God’s intervention and presence in the coming of Jesus into our world. We are to have joy in our hearts as we once again contemplate, celebrate and accept the gift of God’s love and the direction He offers for our lives in Jesus Christ, as He provides the means through which we are brought out of error into truth, out of sin into righteousness, out of sorrow into joy and out of death into life.
Christmas especially allows the joy of knowing God’s deep love to radiate, not only within us but through us to others. As we give Him thanks and praise for His coming to us as a human being, we are inspired to touch the lives of others as He has touched ours and ignite that spark of joy for God to multiply within their lives. Let us therefore reach out today, during this Christmas season and beyond, to help some individual or family to cope, gifting the children of that family with food and toys, visiting and bringing cheer to the lonely or elderly and ministering to the homeless.
May we, in spite of whatever condition we find ourselves, be filled with the joy our God offers in Jesus His Son, a joy we are to make known to others today, throughout the Christmas season, the coming year and beyond, as we allow Jesus to be born in us, to abide with us, our Lord Emmanuel. For whenever He is with us, there is good news and there is great joy.
I wish you and yours, on behalf of my family and the Anglican Church of Barbados, “joy, joy, joy, joy down in” your hearts for this Christmas season and in the New Year 2023. Every blessing to all of you!