It’s Christmas Day
It’s Christmas day, December 25, 2021. Nigerian Christians of all denominations join their fellow Christians across the world in celebrating the good news of the incarnation, that portentous event by which “the Word became Flesh, and dwelt among us.” It is a central doctrine of the Christian faith that the Son of Most High God, the second person of the Holy Trinity, was born to a virgin as foretold by the prophets, to be the redeemer of humankind. He was born and he lived in the lowliest of circumstances, but he taught humanity the most spectacular lessons on love and compassion, service and sacrifice, humility and innocence, as well as a preferential affinity and solidarity with the poor, the sick, the oppressed, and others on the margins of the human society. He taught these lessons, not only by his words, but even more by the transparently holy life that he lived.
Despite his patently innocent life, he was hated and maligned by the religious authorities, betrayed and denied by some of his closest associates, and eventually crucified like a common criminal by the political authorities of the day. But all these had been foretold by the prophets of old in the Hebrew Scriptures. And when he miraculously rose from the dead three days after his crucifixion, and after appearing on several occasions to his followers, a new movement was formed around his teaching, which became the Christian religion that has spread around the world in the last two thousand years.
All through history, Christmas has been associated with joyful celebrations and loving deeds, including family re-unions and the exchange of gifts with family members and friends, and most significantly almsgiving and other acts of charity towards the poor, the sick and the weak. It is a time when Christians are joined by others in their communities to visit orphanages, correctional centres and hospitals, with material gifts and the offering of prayers and good wishes. Christmas time is associated with the preaching of forgiveness, reconciliation and peace in honour of the birth of Jesus the Saviour whom Christians also identify as “the Prince of Peace.” Christmas celebration also comes with the widespread preaching of hope. At this time, suffering believers are generally admonished to persevere in hope of better days ahead, because the God who intervened in the affairs of the world by sending his Son as Saviour two thousand years ago, will not abandon his troubled people today.
Our Christmas celebration is coming at the end of the Year 2021, a year in which Nigerians have experienced perhaps the most shocking violent crimes, the most painful economic decline, and the most incapable or insensitive political leadership in our national history. From the terrorist insurgents that have long established themselves in the North East, to the killer bandits that have taken over large swarths of territories in the North West and North Central, and from the dreaded secessionist IPOB militants in the South East, to the sundry criminals in the South South and South West, it has been a sordid spectacle of reckless bloodshed, incessant kidnapping of innocent school children from their school dormitories, and the widespread abduction of Nigerians from their homes, from their farm, and from the highways, many victims ending up being brutally murdered by those the authorities now shamelessly call “unknown gunmen.” A good number of young talented Nigerians, including highly qualified doctors and other medical professionals, have given up on Nigeria, and emigrated with their families to safer climes and greener pastures. Yet the political elite have carried on with the shocking disposition of “business as usual.” All these woes have been compounded in 2021 by the Covid 19 pandemic that has yet to abate.
Christians in Nigeria and elsewhere are nevertheless enjoined to put up a bold front in celebrating Christmas this year, because the event itself is the herald of glad tidings; for as the Prophet Isaiah says in respect of the Messianic era which the birth of Christ inaugurates: “The people that walked in darkness, have seen a great light; and on those who lived in a land of deep darkness, a great light has shone.” Christians are people of faith and hope, bound in the promise of a more wholesome dispensation that would emerge with the coming as man of Jesus the Son of God. The Messiah whose birth Christmas commemorates, is the Anointed One whom Prophet Isaiah says will proclaim good news to the poor, will bind up the broken hearted, will comfort those who mourn, will proclaim liberty to captives and release to prisoners, and will declare the Lord’s year of favour. He invites all suffering men and women, saying: “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”
At the end of a very trying calendar year, Nigerians need not be in perpetual mourning over the dire circumstances of our country. It is worthwhile casting a hopeful glance at the future, anchored on the glad tidings which the Christmas celebrations of today represent for us and for all of humanity. If we must dwell ceaselessly on the hardships of the day and not take time out to reflect on the hope of liberation, we would forever be crushed with a dampened spirit. True, we may be weighed down with a myriad of daunting challenges, struggling for survival amid widespread insecurity of lives and property, and superintended by a most insensitive, incapable and incompetent ruling class, yet, Nigerians can step forward in faith and hope, and work towards building a more just, more secure, more peaceful and more prosperous society, using the gospel values of sacrificial love, mercy and compassion, such as are exemplified in Jesus of Nazareth, whose birth the world celebrates at Christmas.
The celebration of Christmas today should challenge Nigerian Christians to go beyond lip-service and empty sloganeering and take their Christian commitments seriously. It is time for Nigerian Christians to live out their vocation as “salt of the earth and light of the world.” Christians should take up the challenge of shinning the light of hope for a land that is bedeviled by multiple forces of darkness. This is the time for believers to show gratitude for the many blessings they and their families have enjoyed in the course of the year, notwithstanding the challenges of the day. Christmas is a time for warding off negativity with positive thoughts and narratives as well as wholesome dreams of individual transformation and national rejuvenation. Is this not what the famous Christmas Carols are all about?
And on this note, The Guardian wishes all our Christian readers, and indeed all Nigerians a very happy Christmas!