From the Desk of
The Rt. Rev. Howard Gregory
Bishop of Jamaica & The Cayman Islands
The approach of Christmas is unmistakable, if we just observe the environment around us. The days get shorter, the sorrel begins to ripen, the gungo peas begin to mature, and the poinsettias begin to change colour. If you are like me, you may find more jarring on the nerves the Christmas carols that the radio begins to play from November, and the Christmas decorations that some stores seek to display from just after September. But, whatever it is that captures your attention, most of us experience a sense of anticipation for the coming of Christmas, and nostalgia for Christmas celebrations in the good old days.
In a sense, the countdown to Christmas this year is of a different nature. As a nation, many Jamaicans are looking toward Christmas from a different perspective. They are looking to see what the murder statistics for this year will be as we approach the end of another year. They know full well that the statistics will exceed the previous year, and tell a story of tragedy, violence and death. One may very well ask the question, how did we come to this?
Mystery of Life Lost
There are many answers which may be offered, but it is evident from a Christian perspective that there is a widespread loss of the sense of the mystery that is human life, as well as, the mystery which transforms human life and which is at the heart of the Christmas story. Human life without a sense of mystery loses its value.
The outstanding theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer underscores the value of the mystery of human life when he wrote:
“The lack of mystery in our modern life is our downfall and poverty. A human life is worth as much as the respect it holds for the mystery… Living without mystery means knowing nothing of the mystery in our own life, nothing of the mystery of another person, nothing of the mystery of the world; it means passing over our own hidden qualities and those of others and the world… Living without mystery means not seeing the crucial processes of life at all and even denying them.”
So now Christmas is approaching and we would like to celebrate it in the way that we have always done. We exchange gifts and good wishes, there are family gatherings, the singing of carols, the focus on children, the once-a-year charitable acts extended to the poor, elderly and marginalized, with the Christ-Child of Bethlehem somewhere in the background. The abuse of children, crime and violence, and the high level of murder, which have given us the designation of the most “murderous” nation on earth, somehow cause all our positive associations to fade into the background.
Christ Dignifies Human Life
The mystery which is at the heart of the Christmas celebrations provides a new sense of value and hope in human life, and reverses all the negative factors which belittle it. At the centre of Christmas is the reality of God becoming human through the conception and birth of Jesus Christ, so that we may come to understand what it means to be truly human. God does not seek out the most perfect human being in order to unite with that person. Rather, he takes on human nature as it is. So, not only has God created human beings, but God has also taken on and, thereby, dignified human life and existence. We, in turn, can bestow that same dignity, value and honour for each human life.
If this Christmas we can once again, as church and nation, honour the mystery and value of each human being, then we would truly have reason to celebrate. In a real sense, we would also have allowed the one who was present in the child Jesus of Bethlehem to be truly present in us, and so become channels for touching and transforming the lives of others.
Have a blessed, joyful and Holy Christmas.