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                                                                                                                                REJOICE AND SING PRAISES AT CHRISTMAS 2016


                                                                                                                                          DR. THE HON. RALPH E. GONSALVES
                                                                                                                          PRIME MINISTER OF ST. VINCENT AND THE GRENADINES


The commercialisation of Christmas, the excessive eating and drinking, the over-the-top expenditure on frivolities and side-shows, and even hedonism, have come to mark much of the annual commemoration of the birth of Jesus Christ in countries world-wide which embrace the Christian tradition.  In St. Vincent and the Grenadines, we feel the weight of the not-so-wholesome influences, externally-sourced and home-grown, in our Christmas celebrations despite resistance, rightly, from much of our people who are determined not to turn our festivities into another Carnival or desolate merry-making.

Thankfully, in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, our religious leaders and most families remember what Christmas, and the birth of our Saviour, Jesus Christ, truly mean.  Our country’s unique “Nine Mornings” activities, our Christmas carolling competitions, our home-based and community-focused “lighting up”, our house-cleaning and home decorations, road-cleaning and de-bushing, the various celebratory events for children and the elderly, the organised Christmas dinners and picnics for employees, special Church services and other religious commemorations, indicate that Vincentians overwhelmingly retain a profound sense of a Christ-centred Christmas.  By and large, our people remain faithful to holy rejoicing and singing of worthy praises although devilish influences are lurking at the gates and are present with us.  It is good to recall where we started with Jesus and what our commemoration of His birth truly signifies.
The prophetic voice of Isaiah [Chapter 9, verse 6] foretold in simple, yet majestic, language the birth of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, thus:

                                                                                                                           “For to us a child is born,
                                                                                                                             to us a son us given,
                                                                                                                             and the government will be
                                                                                                                             on his shoulders.
                                                                                                                             And he will be called
                                                                                                                             Wonderful, Counselor,
                                                                                                                             Mighty God,
                                                                                                                             Everlasting Father, Prince
                                                                                                                             of Peace.” 

It was prophesied that justice and righteousness will establish his Kingdom and uphold it from time on and forever; and that there will be no end to the increase of the Lord’s government and peace. 

In God’s own time the prophesy was fulfilled and Christ was born in the town of David, Bethlehem, in a stable.  The Book of Luke instructs us that an angel of the Lord appeared to terrified shepherds who were keeping watch over their flocks by night, and said to them: “Do not be afraid.  I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.  Today a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.”

Every time I read Luke’s vivid description of the holy rejoicing, the joyful praising, and the glorifying of the birth of the Christ child, I am deeply moved: First, and suddenly, a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying: “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to men on whom his favour rests.” Then the shepherds going to Bethlehem and seeing for themselves and thereafter spreading “the good news”; and finally, and profoundly, Mary, mother of Jesus, at the centre of it all, “treasured up all these things, and pondered them in her heart.”

At Christmas 2016, we would all be lifted to a higher place of holy rejoicing if we remember the angel’s announcement, the declaration by a great company of the heavenly host, the witness of the shepherds and their spreading of “good news”, and Mary’s motherly “treasuring up” and “pondering”.

In recent years, terrible weather events have put a damper on some of our Christmas celebrations: In 2010, we had to carry the pain and anguish of the consequences of Tropical Storm Tomas which struck us on October 31st; in 2013, the terrible Christmas-eve floods and landslides brought immense suffering and loss of life; and this year, the recurring adverse weather happenings from the end of September onwards, have occasioned considerable damage and loss, again including loss of life. But the miraculous joy of Christ’s birth and our profound belief in Him as our living God, sustains us always.  Morning by morning new mercies we see; all that we need His hand hath provided; great is His faithfulness.

At Christmas 2016, we must be especially kind and generous towards those who suffered in the recent floods and landslides, particularly those of our fellow-citizens who reside in the north-east and north-west of St. Vincent.

At Christmas 2016, let us renew our resolve to love our Lord and Saviour and to love our neighbours selflessly.  In practical terms, we must strive to be peaceful and avoid hurting others with acts of violence; we must commit to helping others especially those who are poor, in ill-health or marginalised; we must not despoil Mother Earth and our physical environment; we must make best efforts to be productive and seek to eat by the sweat of our brows; we must endeavour to be better fathers, mothers, wives, brothers, sisters, children, and neighbours; and we must uphold the basic values of citizenship, community, and solidarity.  In all this, we must always thank God for His kind mercies, including His gift to us of life and living!

Let us all use this season of goodwill and peace to stop the senseless bickering, hating, and killings.  Let us cut out the petty vanities, the village and family discords, and have a Christmas of joyous praise and thanksgiving devoid of partisan politics or religious rivalries.

One final bit of advice: Please be very careful on the roads; be considerate to all road-users.  Do not allow the motor vehicle to become a dangerous weapon to injure, to maim or to kill.

Happy and joyous Christmas 2016! Let us prepare for a better 2017! Be good, always!