Monday, April 12, 2021

CHRISTMAS MESSAGE 2020, BY THE PRESIDING BISHOP OF THE GAMBIA, THE METHODIST CHURCH THE GAMBIA

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THE MOST REVEREND HANNAH CAROLINE FAAL- HEIM

Immanuel / Emmanuel

Perhaps like me you have read about Immanuel in the Bible, or you have heard a sermon on Immanuel, or you have sung a Christian hymn which mentions the word Immanuel. This Christmas we want to reflect again on its meaning and significance for us.

Immanuel has two spellings. The word is spelt Immanuel with an I in Isaiah, which is the Hebrew spelling and it is spelt Emmanuel with an E in Matthew, which is the Greek spelling. Whether it is spelt with an I or an E, it is the same word, it sounds the same, and it has the same meaning, that is, “God-with-us”.

So, who is given the name Immanuel or Emmanuel in the Bible?

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The prophet Isaiah, seven hundred years before Jesus was born, prophesied with the following words: “the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the virgin is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14).

The announcement was of the deliverer of Judah, heralding the coming of God’s Messiah, Jesus Christ.

Matthew’s Gospel tells us that the prophecy from Isaiah was fulfilled.

How was it fulfilled? It was fulfilled in the birth of Jesus Christ. The Gospel of Matthew quotes the Scripture from Isaiah:

Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel, which means “God is with us” (Matthew 1:23).

When his mother, the virgin Mary, conceived Jesus by the power of the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit, Joseph who was betrothed to her considered to dismiss her quietly. However, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said:

Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins. All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: ‘Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel, which means “God with us”’ (Matthew 1:18-23).

The angel had to say all of this to Joseph to help him understand that the child Mary had conceived and who would be born was no ordinary child, but the Son of God. This child was the promised Messiah, the Christ.

He would be born to live among us and to save us from our sins, and he would have the power to do this because he was the deliverer: As the Son of God, he was indeed the promised Immanuel, which means “God is with us”.  “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

This Christmas, we may not feel that God is with us because a corona virus pandemic has inflicted the entire world and continues to bring darkness of disease and death. Economies around the world have suffered severely through many months of lockdowns and other restrictions, and many are worried about their work-place, their business, about their homes and about being able to provide food for their families. Millions of people have been isolated and lonely because of social distancing measures. And the normal way of life as we know it is constantly changing. And yet, it is especially during this season of crisis that God remains with us, perhaps more so than at any other time. We can continue to have hope and remember that God is still with us. God is still saving us.

Claiming that God is with us is challenging for some people, especially now. Even though we mourn what we have lost in our daily lives, in our families, in our communities and in the nation, God remains with us.

When we strive to change hatred and malice and anger, frustrations and disappointments, envy and hypocrisy and self-righteousness, God is with us bringing comfort and hope for a new way of living together in harmony.

Although this year 2020 has been a strange year, the message of Christmas remains the same.

St. Luke’s Gospel tells us about the first Christmas. The angels told a group of simple shepherds that a child is born in the city of David, a Saviour who is Christ the Lord. And this shall be the sign, the babe wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.

Mary gave birth to Jesus and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no room in the inn. Emmanuel­, the God who is with us no matter what, has arrived in humble circumstances. The angels celebrated and sang “glory to God in the highest, peace, goodwill to all men on earth”. They sang for Emmanuel, for the God who is with us, no matter what, has arrived – and he, Jesus, came to be the Saviour of the world, then and now.

All over the world the COVID–19 pandemic has created uncertainty, fear, discord and anxiety for many people. We are enduring lockdowns and its restrictions and also losses that some face through loss of jobs and income, housing and especially the loss of loved ones through death from COVID–19. Around the world, COVID–19 has made this year’s Christmas a sad, lonely and friendless event for many.

However, there is good news and hope. From the sure knowledge that Jesus Christ, Emmanuel, God-with-us, has come and remains with us forever, we can gain the strength to remain patient, to show courage and to have hope that we will live in a better future.

Let us continue to encourage each other by doing what Jesus calls us to do, to feed the hungry, to welcome the stranger, to clothe the naked, to heal the sick, to help those in prison, and to comfort the broken-hearted and the dying and those who have suffered losses or lost loved ones. We are called to love God and love our neighbour as ourselves. – In this context, I want to express, on all our behalf, our deepest gratitude to those who work in the health service and in other charitable organizations especially during this pandemic, as they are wonderful examples of what Jesus is enabling all of us to do.

Jesus, Emmanuel, God-with-us, should be in our hearts and lives, and also in our homes and in our communities and in the whole nation of Gambia.

Let us continue to pray for everyone, for our children and young people, for the economy of the country and also for our families in the diaspora.

May Almighty God bless and protect us this Christmas. May the peace of God be in our hearts and minds. May the Holy Spirit lift us above our sorrows during this pandemic and give us peace. The grace and love of God are a reality in our lives, for Emmanuel, God with us, remains with us, no matter what, and he will remain with us, forever and ever. Amen

A blessed Christmas Season to you all.

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