Joy to a troubled world at 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 angels. Baby Jesus is the central focus of Christmas. The message of Christmas is that of joy and peace. That was the heavenly message brought by the multitude of angels that 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. That was the message from heaven that marked the first Christmas. Any other issue, concern, expectation, desire or want that is not in tandem with this eternal message is not for Christmas. Any desire not geared towards giving God glory and in turn promoting peace and goodwill towards men on earth contradicts the spirit and purpose of Christmas.
Given the turmoil around the world, many may lose faith in Christmas. The atrocities we see today are not new. Right 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, had existed many centuries before the birth of Jesus Christ.
The birth of Jesus took place at a time the Jewish nation was colonized by the Romans. Under that scenario, there was mass discontent against the colonial Roman powers. There were leftist agitators. The Zealots constituted one of the radical political movements that constantly incited the people to rebel 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 have been labeled as “terrorists.” There has been a time since Adam that the world has had peace. The greater part of human history is 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. It was the same Roman authorities ruling the Jews at the time that the Zealots were fighting against. There was no peace in the land at the time.
The message of peace proclaimed by the angels presupposed that there was conflict. Peace is the only valuable that can be given to 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. Christ’s coming changed human calendar as we have it today.
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 remains with human beings, there will be Christmas celebration. In a matter of twelve months from now, there will be another Christmas. So, nobody should kill himself 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 Christmas. But that is fallacious. There is no particular Christmas that would mark the end of Christmas, opportunities, expectations and targets. 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 during 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. That is very sad.
It is important to point out that the way Christmas is celebrated in Nigeria is different from the way it is celebrated in other climes. In the Western world, for instance, the prices of goods are slashed apparently to make things 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. Once it is 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 businessmen stockpile 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.
As many embark on travelling, partying, eating and drinking, nobody should forget the central message of Christmas, which is joy to the world and peace to men of goodwill. While the joy is to the whole world, the peace is only for men and women who have goodwill towards others. The only way to be a partaker of this peace is to eschew bitterness, rancour and acrimony. To the tension enveloping Nigeria’s polity we say peace. Let peace and joy reign in the hearts of all men as a prelude to peace in the country. The gift of Christmas, which is Christ, is love. His message is joy – the joy that surpasses understanding.