Christmas greetings to all citizens and residents who make up the family that is the Cayman Islands, and a warm welcome to our visitors as well.
This season, and indeed throughout the year, it has become even more obvious that family is one of mankind’s greatest gifts – whether defined as being a family of many nationalities, faces and aspirations; or of being a family in the more traditional sense.
And it is great because in the family setting, one is free to experience other wonderful gifts – such as understanding, and ambition.
To some, these may appear to be strange presents.
They can’t be tied up with pretty bows, or wrapped in shiny paper. But these gifts were embodied in Christ – our Emanuel, our God with us.
It is Christ who defines family; Christ who demonstrates true understanding; and Christ who still dares to be ambitious in His love for us, who still says it’s possible for humans to reach higher.
These may seem like lofty, abstract thoughts, but they are manifested very simply.
As I reflect on Christmas, for example, I naturally think back to a time when children were thrilled to see daddy coming home from sea. Not only did he offer mama a much-deserved break, daddy sweetened our quiet, happy lives with candy, a new toy, and sometimes new shoes!
The gifts of family, understanding and ambition are all in that memory. And just as He gave us goodness back then, our Heavenly Father is giving us goodness right now.
Indeed, as we think back over the past 12 months, we see these gifts in action.
They have caused us not only to endure but in many instances, do well – in spite of the challenges, during what has been a watershed time for our people.
Looking around the Caribbean, to the Americas and even to Europe, and even farther beyond, we see that trials and hardships respect no person.
Human tragedy and natural disasters impact so many people. Economic hardships grip the world and we, too, feel its fingers tightening around us.
Nevertheless, every day on the streets of the Cayman Islands, we still encounter men and women, and boys and girls, who are filled with the loving, caring spirit of Christ.
And like Him, we realise that we are our brother’s keeper.
We saw this after Hurricane Paloma struck all three islands, but particularly Cayman Brac and Little Cayman.
Residents in those Islands have since worked hard to rebuild their homes and businesses, and their families and friends in Grand Cayman were quick to extend a helping hand, having had recent, firsthand experience with a nasty storm called Ivan.
This empathy is founded on the deep understanding that family members share.
So too, we found understanding in the many NGOs, who offered vital assistance after Paloma, and throughout the year 2008.
God’s blessing to these organisations, and to the many PTAs, church groups and service clubs who endeavoured to lead our youth and to protect the helpless – especially the elderly, the children and the abused.
It is true that we are our brother’s keeper.
Being family as we are, we also can give to each other the gift of understanding. As a country, we have made great strides in working to improve this.
But our understanding needs to reach out beyond our shores. As time marches on, the world gets smaller. We therefore recognise that while we are immediate family here in the Cayman Islands, we have extended family that we need to hold as close as possible.
In the region, and also with the UK, we aim to improve their understanding of our culture – of our subtle nuances, and of our not-so-subtle differences. In turn, we seek to know more about them – their goals, their visions.
It is only by understanding that we can all move forward, maintaining our identities and yet becoming more unified on shared ideals.
This understanding, then, leads to another gift: The gift of ambition. We in Cayman may have a different approach to some issues that are on the global agenda, but that makes us no less ambitious for growth, prosperity, and social harmony.
So then, as a government and as a people, we must encourage each other to move in positive directions, overcoming hurdles and staying on course.
This Christmas, I want to urge everyone to think ambitiously about 2009. Think about what you can say, or what you can do, to further the advancement of these Islands.
If we all accept this as our personal responsibility, we will find ourselves giving and receiving gifts not just during Christmas, but during every day of the year.
Our hearts go out to those who have lost loved ones and friends this year. But let us remember that God has a plan for us all.
I’m sure that in keeping with tradition, many of us have wish lists, either in our minds or written on paper. But I trust that at the top of each one – numbered even higher than iPods, new clothes, and flat-screen TVs – we have our collective wish for family unity; understanding; and a new year that brims with ambition.
Let us begin 2009 with the blessings that only come from the Source of all gifts – our Lord Jesus Christ!
May God bless us with a peaceful Christmas, and may our families have a very safe and Happy New Year!