I greet you all in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is the Prince of Peace and Emmanuel – God with us.
Recently, I led a team of 30 people on a study tour and pilgrimage to the Holy Land. What a wonderful time we had. We visited the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth. Nazareth is a real place and the Church is literally built over the house where Mary lived. This was the house where the Angel Gabriel appeared to her and “announced” that she would bear a child by divine conception and he should be called Jesus.
We visited the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and saw the place where Jesus was born. We traveled to Galilee and sat in the place where Jesus delivered his Sermon on the Mount and heard afresh the Beatitudes. We traveled across the Sea of Galilee by boat, just like Jesus did with his disciples. We walked down the Mount of Olives, stood where Jesus wept over Jerusalem, and prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane. We saw the place where Jesus was crucified and buried, and raised from the dead. And, we sat on the steps to the Temple in Jerusalem where Peter preached on the Day of Pentecost and 3,000 were baptized.
My fellow Ugandans – We have seen these places with our own eyes and we have come back to testify. This same story we hear every year at Christmas did not come from someone’s imagination. It really happened. The places are real; the people were real; the events and circumstances were real.
The Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem is literally built over the house where Mary and Joseph stayed and where Mary gave birth. It was a house partially made from a cave, and the feeding trough where Mary laid Jesus was a stone carved inside the cave.
My friends, we really realized when we saw the place ourselves that Jesus was born into a poor family. But, his family was faithful and devout, and they loved the Lord their God so much. They took Jesus to the Temple when he was eight days old because the Bible told them to do that. It didn’t matter how poor they were, they still brought their tithes and offerings and followed the teaching of the Bible.
That’s what Christmas is about – it is about the coming of God to be close to us, to be near to us, to be actually with us. Jesus is Emmanuel – God with us. Christmas is about everyone – poor as well as rich, women as well as men, children as well as adults – everyone being able to be close to God. Because God has come close to us when he sent his only Son Jesus Christ into the world. As Prophet Isaiah says; “For to us a child is born, a son is given, and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall called Wonderful counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6)
If you have not realized that this is good news personally FOR YOU, then I encourage you this Christmas to take time to realize that the only thing keeping you from knowing how close Jesus is to you is your own sin. Let this be the Christmas that is not just about meat and eating and new clothes. Let this be the Christmas when you invited Jesus to be in your heart. So close to you that he is in your heart, living there as your Saviour and Lord.
This is the good news that we boldly proclaim and that we are not ashamed of. We believe the Bible is the authoritative Word of God and trustworthy to tell us the Truth. Unfortunately, some in the Anglican Communion members no longer believe the Bible is the infallible Word of God. That’s why I and other Archbishops from the Global South, Sydney, and the Anglican Church in North America organized the second Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON) in October in Nairobi. We were altogether 1358 delegates worldwide. These included 169 delegates from Uganda. We are so determined to refuse anything that contradicts the Biblical authority without fear or compromise. I appeal to all Ugandans to join us in this struggle to protect our God given rights.
We are very concerned that our mother Church of England is moving in a very dangerous direction. They are following the path the Americans in the Episcopal Church took that caused us to break communion with them ten years ago.
The Church of England is now recommending that same-sex relationships be blessed in the church. Even though they are our mother, I want you to know that we cannot and we will not go in that direction. We will resist them and, with our other GAFCON brothers and sisters, will stand with those in the Church of England who continue to uphold the Bible as the Word of God and promote Biblical faith and morality.
In our own Church, I call upon all people to let Jesus be the Prince of Peace and strive to maintain the unity of peace by resisting going to law courts to resolve conflicts. Please, let us sit together and seek the mind of Christ for all our various concerns.
Even in our national and civic life, I call upon all people to live their lives by following in the footsteps of Jesus, who came not to be served, but to serve. Let us use our energy to build up Uganda rather than tear it down. Let us not look out only for our own interests, but for the interests of all Ugandans. Corruption is killing us; it is choking our development and growth as a country. If God had been greedy, He would not have sent His Son Jesus and we would not have Christmas. But, instead, He sacrificed and gave His only Son to be the Saviour of the world. As a Christian country, let us not be greedy. Let us give up corruption. Let us discover that it is better to give than to receive.
I send warm Christmas greetings to President Yoweri Museveni, Maama Janet and their entire family and all our government leaders. All the Bishops and their wives, the Clergy, Lay Readers and Christians of the Church of Uganda. I also send my sincere greetings, along with prayers for a blessed Christmas for our Roman Catholic, Orthodox and Pentecostal brethren, and all those who have looked in hope for the coming of the One who will save people from their sins, Jesus the Christ.
HAPPY CHRISTMAS TO YOU ALL!
The Most Rev. Stanley Ntagali
ARCHBISHOP OF CHURCH OF UGANDA