Our world community, and Christians in particular, celebrate the historic and irrefutable fact of the birth of Jesus, the saviour — The gift of the God of eternity intervening in time to save a world trapped in the darkness of evil and wickedness.
A Jewish writer said in reference to the times in which the birth of Jesus occurred, “These people who dwell in darkness have seen a great light.” Because of the gift of Christ, there is no need to remain dominated by the darkness of evil. Societies can overcome the stranglehold of evil which often tries to keep them in darkness and rob them of peace and prosperity.
Man now has a choice whether to serve evil or to serve God and do good. Likewise, in a well-ordered society, the governmental authorities are charged with the responsibility to promote good and discourage evil. To do so, they reward the good and punish the evil in order to serve as a deterrent. Healthy societies can only develop and be sustained by doing good. Evil practices cannot produce good results.
Christmas reminds us of the call to be good and to do good in our dealings with each other. It reminds us of the principle and power of love to transform and enable men to do good. “For God so loved the world that he gave…” It is love that drives giving. In this season we also show our love by giving. It is my hope that in the same way that we give gifts as expressions of love at Christmas, so may we also give of ourselves, our time, and our talents for the love of country and in service of community and nation.
It was the 35th US President John F Kennedy who, in his inaugural address. challenged his nation with the words, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”
Similarly, I ask all my readers to contemplate this question: What can you do for Jamaica? What can you give? Instead of wondering what other people are going to give you for Christmas, consider what you may be able to give year-round.
Jamaica will not change if we sit back waiting for others to bail us out.
Peace on Earth, goodwill to men
The message of Christmas also speaks of the possibility of peace on Earth and goodwill to all men. While many in society may be able to celebrate the peace of the Christmas message, we must be mindful of the many communities under siege — those who have no peace. It demands from us a commitment to work more assiduously for peace for all citizens everywhere. In this season in which we are called on to remember our brothers and those less fortunate than ourselves, we should recognise that lasting peace would be one of the greatest gifts that communities could receive.
A time to forgive
Another significant message of Christmas that our nation needs for a healthy society is forgiveness. The love of God brought forgiveness so that we can be at peace with God and each other. The willingness to forgive is essential to our progress. As Christmas brings us together, we also sometimes have to put behind us the hurts of the past year or years as we come face to face with family members and friends who we have wronged or who have wronged us.
Truth and acknowledgement of our wrong provides the environment for forgiveness — both to give it and receive it. Too many individuals are hard on those who mess up, forgetting that all of us have sinned. They refuse to forgive and allow others a second chance. We sometimes forget that people do change and mature.
All men have a past. Many who are upstanding citizens in leadership at various levels of society today have a very chequered past, whether this is publicly known or not. Our history of the last 40 years does not have many who have not messed up, hence the high levels of corruption and mistrust in our society. It all underscores the need for a type of Truth Commission for forgiveness, healing and peace to go forward.
The tipping point
The message and spirit of Christmas — love, peace, joy and goodwill to all men — is what our nation desperately needs now. This message should inspire us to believe that the dark shadows of crime, violence, corruption, poverty, injustice, oppression, and other negative proclivities can be overcome. Light can dawn for a new and better tomorrow. Change is possible if we will apply ourselves to embrace the true meaning of Christmas and engage in a way that contributes to positive change.
The cynics will say that it is impossible to change everyone or to get everyone engaged, but it doesn’t take everyone for us to see the change; we just need a sufficient number of dedicated people to cause the transformation.
In his 2000 book, The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell describes the tipping point as “the moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point”. When the tipping point is achieved, an idea, a product, or a virus moves through society like an epidemic. It may take a while for a matter to get to the tipping point, but once it reaches that stage its movement accelerates and a real shift occurs.
Other social scientists have suggested that 10 percent of a population is enough to get to a tipping point. The 10 percent, though, must be radically committed and immune to influence from the opposing idea. If that committed 10 percent then actively engages in spreading the idea of change in their community, then the majority opinion can be rapidly shifted. So we only need some radically committed people to shift Jamaica to a brighter day. We need to tip the scales in the right direction in all the critical sectors to produce an overall effect on national destiny.
We need to reach a tipping point for Jamaica in 2018. The Church, with its members operating at various levels in every sphere in the island, could create that tipping point if faith and practice were the same, or if the people were united in a common action. The country needs a ministry of social mobilisation to create a tipping point for transformation.
Christmas also comes with the message that the year is ending and a new year will soon dawn on the horizon. A new year is an opportunity to do things differently. What can you do differently in 2018 that would make an impact?
Here is a suggestion: As Jamaicans, we can choose to commit to do it right and be first-class. We can make a difference.
As a conscious, caring Jamaican reading this column today, will you join me and let us start a movement this Christmas and for 2018 to “Do it Right, Be First-Class”? Encourage two other individuals to join you in doing it right. All it requires is enough of us to a cause a tipping point. We can commit to being first-class because we are Jamaicans, and part of being Jamaican is to be first-class. Ah so wi think and feel bout wiself when we travel. You woulda think wi own di worl’.
The idea of ‘first class’ was one of the tenets on which we were building the National Transformation Programme in 2009. It was a call to treat every citizen as a first-class citizen, being courteous, respectful, caring, kind, and helpful, especially government ministries, offices and agencies, in dealing with the public.
Bruce Golding, as prime minister at the time, who often stated his deep desire to see a kinder, gentler society, gave his full support to the tenets of the programme. I am confident that Prime Minister Andrew Holness is of the same heart and mind and will give his support.
Imagine with me for a moment what impact or real change it would bring if public servants at all levels were trained to and did treat every Jamaican as a first-class citizen. Imagine the police treating all citizens, irrespective of station in life or place of dwelling, as first-class citizens. What if they showed respect and common courtesy even while apprehending someone? What if the public hospitals treated citizens as first-class citizens? They could not leave them for hours on end unattended. Imagine if the immigration and Customs treated all as first-class citizens, and the court system too.
This is not beyond us, all it requires is an edict from our new-era prime minister to the public service to get the ball rolling at that level. That is the kind of public service culture we were cultivating before the National Transformation Programme got derailed.
But let’s not wait for a prime ministerial edict or for a whole nation to be mobilised. Let it begin with you. Be the change you want to see. Commit to #DoItRight #BeFirstClass. Make it your hashtag.
Change your world
Practically, this means that, for 2018, you can choose to do what you know is right in your dealings and seek to treat others first-class every time, thus demonstrating your own class. None of us can take responsibility for what others do, but we certainly are responsible for what we do. If we do it right in our corner, in our transactions, in our relationships, in our performance, then we have one situation where corruption, injustice, indiscipline and disorder are eliminated. Each of us has much more influence for change than we credit ourselves with. You can become a game-changer by shifting the focus from what others are doing,or not doing, to what you can and will do. The change must begin somewhere. Why not you and I, and why not now?
The transformation of the nation is the responsibility of all of us. We have to build our country ourselves; no one is going to do it for us. If we leave it up to others our experience has taught us that we can expect them to take advantage. Neither can we be mere observers of the destructive processes that are happening all around us and hope to reap benefits. We cannot expect to reap where we have not sown. The time is now to put our hands to the plough and work to erase the negatives. A relatively small number created the tipping point that has produced the devastation of our present circumstances. They are bent on maintaining course. Enough of us must now tip the scales in the positive direction.
The nation cannot be greater than what the people put into it to make it what they want it to be. Hence, we must give deliberately to the nation, even though being responsible sometimes comes at a high cost. Our forefathers paid a high price. Many of them gave their lives in order for us to have the freedoms and privileges that we now enjoy, and only a few of them got any personal returns at the time. That, however, didn’t stop them from being willing to make the sacrifice.
There is another word that we should remember at Christmastime — sacrifice. It’s a time to think of others first. Where would a gift be most appreciated? Who can you visit? Who can you invite for dinner who may not have a warm meal?
Indeed, there are the responsibilities that the messages of Christmas call for, and yet it is a time for celebration. The power to accomplish all that needs to be done is given by the same Jesus whose birth we commemorate. May you have a Merry Christmas and be filled with joy — the source of strength for service in the new year.
Copyright © 2017 by Rev Dr. Al Miller.