Joy to a troubled world at Christmas
Today, the world is celebrating yet another Christmas. Joy to the world is the message of Christmas. The first Christmas heralded the birth of Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour. The stage was set in Bethlehem, a small town in Judea. The cast included Joseph, Mary, shepherds and the angels. Baby Jesus is the central focus of Christmas. The message of Christmas is joy and peace. That was the heavenly message brought by the multitude of angels who appeared in heaven and overwhelmed the shepherds in the field.
The angel’s message was straight – “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” Luke 2:14. Any other issue, concern, expectation, desire or want that doesn’t revolve around this central message is not for Christmas. Any desire not geared towards giving God glory and in turn promoting peace and goodwill towards men contradicts the spirit and purpose of Christmas.
Given the turmoil around the world, many may lose faith in Christmas. Three days ago, a tsunami suddenly struck and devastated Pandeglang district of Indonesia killing over 222 people and injuring some 840 with several others unaccounted. Most of the victims were fun seekers at the beach resorts. Pope Francis Sunday prayed for the victims of the tsunami, a violent natural disaster, which caused serious losses in human lives, numerous missing and homeless people and extensive material damage.
The atrocities we see today are not new. From the days of Adam in the Garden of Eden, which God himself planted, humanity has witnessed blood. Cain committed the most atrocious murder by killing his brother Abel. The Holy Scriptures are full of stories of wars that involved mass massacres. The desperate wickedness of man, which manifest in all forms of atrocious acts, have existed many centuries before the birth of Jesus Christ.
The birth of Jesus took place at a time the Jewish nation was colonised by the Romans. Under the circumstance, there was mass discontent against the colonial Roman powers. There were leftist agitators. The Zealots constituted one of the underground radical political movements that consistently incited people of Judea against the Roman authorities and expel them from the Holy land by force of arms.
The Maccabees were another group of Jewish rebel army that took control of Judea from the colonial Greek Seleucid Empire. They established the Hasmonean dynasty by force and ruled from 164 to 63 BC. They reasserted the Jewish religion by forced conversion and expanded the boundaries of Judea by conquest. If the Zealots and the Maccabees were in operation today, they would be branded as “terrorists.” The greater part of human history has been marked by indescribable turmoil, massacres, atrocities and bloodshed.
The order by Caesar Augustus (Luke 2:1) for a census of the entire world was not a friendly peaceful order. History has it that Augustus Caesar was the founder of the Roman Empire and its first Emperor. As a military dictator, whose preoccupation was the expansion of the Roman Empire, the census order was more of a political strategy to have accurate data of his subjects for purposes of taxation and military service. There was no peace in the land at the time.
That notwithstanding, the angels declared a message of joy and peace. Paul, Jewish lawyer, trained under Gamaliel, member of the Sanhedrin, was explicit when he said, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? (Romans 8:35). Nothing, not even the terrorists’ bombs will separate us from the love of God which is in Christ.
The message of peace proclaimed by the angels presupposed that there was conflict. Peace is the only valuable that can be given in a turbulent situation. When Jesus said “Peace, be still” to the raging storm at sea, his disciples were faced with danger. In a state of war, the only thing the warring parties need is peace. Christ is the prince of Peace. Notwithstanding the turmoil around the world, Christ remains Christ. Christ’s coming is not predicated on human circumstances rather human circumstances are predicated on Christ. The coming of Jesus Christ changed human calendar as we have today.
On that note, it is right to ask what your expectations at Christmas are. Many people have varied expectations at Christmas – some good some bad. Some are expecting gifts from loved ones. Some want to go for exotic shopping spree. Some want a new car. Some want to complete their houses. The expectations are many and varied. For many, Christmas is predicated in meeting their expectations.
If your expectations fall short of the central theme of Christmas, which is joy, peace and goodwill, you should retract it and have the right spirit. Remember that Christmas has no end. As long as the earth exists with human beings, there will be Christmas. So, nobody should kill him or herself because of this year’s Christmas. Mellow down; take life easy. Thank God specially that you are alive to celebrate another Christmas. That is the greatest gift.
One of the main features of Christmas is mass movement of people from one place to another. There are international travels across continents, regions and countries. Over and above that are the domestic travels within the country. In Nigeria, for instance, the traditional movement at this time is from the west to the eastern states and then north to the southern states. There is this air of hurry, hurry, hurry! Many people appear to be in a hurry to reach their destination, meet certain goals/targets before the year ends. The event of Christmas, which comes on December 25, just six days to the end of the year, accentuates this haste.
Somehow, there is a false feeling in some individuals of failure if set objectives are not met, as if there won’t be another chance. But that is fallacious. After Christmas comes the New Year that opens a brand new world of opportunities. Those that lost their lives during Christmas “rush” don’t ever get another chance to celebrate another Christmas.
I am a bit hesitant to adduce “rush” to Christmas because there was nothing in the first Christmas that suggested “rush”, especially, for mundane things. The duo of Joseph and Mary, on their way to Bethlehem to get registered in a census ordered by Caesar Augustus travelled on a donkey that walked slowly. The shepherds were in the field keeping night watch over their flock under a serene atmosphere when the multitude of angels appeared with the message of Christmas. It was only after the angels had departed back into heaven that the Bible said the shepherds “went with haste” to Bethlehem to confirm what the angels had said. That rush was geared towards meeting Baby Jesus in the manger and not for any material purpose. I have dwelt on the issue of rush at Christmas because it is the cause of many deaths on the roads in Nigeria during this season. The high rate of road accidents that has become another nightmare in Nigeria worsens during Christmas. This is very sad.
It is important to point out that the way Christmas is celebrated in Nigeria is different from what obtains in other climes. In the Western world, for instance, the prices of goods are slashed to make them affordable to all. Shops open Christmas sales where every imaginable item is sold at rock bottom price. That culture promotes and brings joy to millions at Christmas.
But here in Nigeria, the stakes are high. From December 1st, the prices of every item in the market skyrocket beyond measure. Everything from food items, clothing, shoes, household utensils, etc, have their prices raised. Many businesses stock pile goods to be sold at Christmas, for that is when they make very high profit. The price hike is also extended to transport fares. Travelers pay through their nose. Criminals have a field day during Christmas. This culture of profiteering during Christmas negates the spirit and purpose of the historic event. Rather than promote joy, millions, among our famished citizenry are made sad during Christmas. The joy is denied them by circumstances beyond their control. The gift of Christmas, which is Christ, is love. His message is joy – the joy that surpasses understanding.