2020 has been a very challenging year for the world and for our country in many respects: the Covid 19 Pandemic, which has sent hundreds of our countrymen and women to their early graves and forced a major lockdown on us that impacted very negatively on our socio-economic lives, our business enterprises, our religious activities, and our schools and colleges. We have witnessed a protracted ASUU General Strike, which for over nine months has paralysed our entire public university system, as well as the brutal crushing by agents of the state of peaceful protests against police brutality and bad governance that was organised and staged with unprecedented efficiency and coordination by youths across the country. We have witnessed heightened insecurity by way of the intractable Boko Haram insurgency and the widespread banditry and the kidnapping for ransom all over the place - the latest incident being the callous abduction of over three hundred students from the Government Science Secondary School, Kankara, Katsina State. And in the midst of all this, Nigerians have had to endure being superintended by a most incompetent, insensitive and unaccountable national government that many see as tending towards dictatorship and repression.
Yet, Christmas has come once again, and in spite of the prevailing circumstances I ask all believing Christians to put themselves in the mood with Christmas carols being staged here and there, even if only virtually, let us be determined to celebrate to the full the joy and the peace, the beauty and the glory, which the messengers of hope prophesied, and which we have been reading about in the course of the advent season - from Jeremiah to Isaiah and from Zephaniah to John the Baptist. Let us put ourselves in the mood of the same joy and peace which (in Luke 2:14) the angel of good tidings announced on the night of the Nativity to all men and women of good will, when he proclaimed, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favours.”
I recall some of God’s promises concerning the cosmic equilibrium that would happen when the Messiah is born and when he establishes his kingdom of integrity, justice and peace. The Lord says through Isaiah that “I will make rivers well up on barren heights and fountains in the midst of valleys. I will turn the wilderness into a lake, and dry ground into water spring. In the wilderness I will put cedar trees, acacias, myrtles, olives. In the desert I will plant juniper, plane tree and cypress side by side…” (Isaiah 41:18-19). Again Prophet Isaiah says of the new dispensation when the Messiah takes the throne: “The wolf lives with the lamb, the panther lies down with the kid, calf and lion cub feed together with a little boy to lead them. The cow and the bear make friends, their young lie down together. The lion eats straw like the ox. The infant plays over the cobra’s hole; into the viper’s lair the young child puts his hand. They do not hurt, no harm, on all my holy mountain, for the country is filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” (Isaiah 11:6-9). And Prophet Zephaniah describes the jubilation that would accompany the Messianic times in the following words: “Shout for joy, daughter of Zion, Israel, shout aloud! Rejoice, exult with all your heart, daughter of Jerusalem. The Lord has repealed your sentence; he has driven your enemies away… The Lord your God is in your midst, a victorious warrior. He will exult with joy over you, he will renew you by his love; he will dance with shouts of joy for you as on a day of festival.” (Zephaniah 3:14-18).
Inspired by the above passages which we constantly hear proclaimed in our Churches during the season of advent, I call upon Nigerian Christian brothers and sisters to be determined to make the most of the holy season of Christmas this year. Let us allow God’s word of promise to take flesh and become effectual in us and in our immediate environment, in spite of the prevailing circumstances of our country and the worsening fortunes of our people. Let us be determined to celebrate in faith and hope, the joy and peace, the beauty and glory which are the endowments of the Infant King, even as the entire framework for economic, political, social, emotional and psychological wellbeing in our society has become degenerate, causing enormous distress for the multitude of people. Let us be determined to embrace the peace of the Infant King even as terrorist insurgency and widespread criminal banditry continue to harass the population of the North-East, the North West, and the North Central, and as our security infrastructure appears overwhelmed by the callous and cruel exploits of the insurgents.
Let the Christmas bells ring, and let our carols be staged with passion, even though the ongoing economic recession has continued to humiliate the majority of the Nigerian people. Let us be determined nevertheless to celebrate Christmas this year with gusto and make the protracted midnight of our national exigencies a providential milieu for the hatching of new dreams, and for the fostering of fresh visions of a land of justice, good governance, unity, peace, security and prosperity.
Let us be determined to celebrate a Christmas of joy and peace, even as we have watched with utter consternation the scandal of Nigerian fathers stealing food off the hands of their children, and the irrationality of Nigerian mothers mortgaging tomorrow for the fleeting pleasures of today. Let us be determined to join the chorus of heaven to sing “Glory to God in the highest” and “Peace to men and women who are God’s friends,” even as those who should take responsibility for the future generation are propagating decadent social values at every level and in every sector and instituting a legacy of shame in the psyche of the young people. Let us light the torch of rejuvenation and liberation, and celebrate, even if only in faith and hope, the wholesome and vibrant youth population which the young Jesus of Nazareth inspires.
We have indeed witnessed worsening political, social, economic and especially security challenges. Yet let us jingle the bells and roll out the drums at Christmas. Let us celebrate the joy of the incarnation and savour the abundant life which Jesus of Nazareth brought to the world, if only in faith and hope. Though most of our countrymen and women lack material comfort and our society lacks the security and prosperity we desire, this Christmas should not go without major celebrations. If there is little to rejoice over on the material plane, let us move on to the spiritual level, the level of faith and hope, the hope of God’s imminent intervention, and declare a feast. True, on this level, the level of prophetic imagination, we can celebrate the triumph of good over evil. On the spiritual level, we can celebrate the supremacy of light over darkness, and the ascendancy of resilient truth over pretentious falsehood. Let us go ahead and celebrate, for as men and women of faith we must appreciate the fact that all appearances to the contrary notwithstanding, the victory of Christ’s civilization of love over the prevailing logic of power and control, and violence and war, is as sure as daylight follows the night.
As we celebrate a Christmas of faith and hope therefore, let us make a renewed commitment to live by truth, the truth that sets one free. Let us make a renewed commitment to pursue religiously the Kingdom values of love, mercy, compassion, forgiveness, non-violence and peace, for which the Son of God became man, and for which he gave his life. I challenge you all who are believers in the gospel of Christ, to reject the prevailing cult of selfishness, the widespread cult of pleasure and the dominant cult of mammon. I challenge you all to strive today to live wholesome, meaningful and purposeful human lives, lives devoted to such higher values as the service of God and the advancement of the common good, not lives dominated by primitive greed, unmitigated pleasure, and the blind pursuit of ephemeral power and shallow popularity. I challenge all Nigerian Christians to stand up and be counted on the side of righteousness, the righteousness that exalts a nation. We must rise beyond mere ritualism and sloganeering in our religious practice. Yes we must rise beyond the very noisy but largely hollow enterprise that today dominates our national landscape in the name of Christianity, and face squarely and courageously the truth of our national existence – a jaundiced and blighted existence that is sadly unaffected by our widespread religious practice.
I challenge Nigerian Christians to address seriously the scandalous reality of widespread religiosity that co-exists side-by-side with rampant corruption, primitive greed, ethnic bigotry, mutual hatred and a predilection to violence and crime. We must work towards reversing this ugly situation if our religious enterprise is not to be made a laughing stuck by a critical and discerning public. I challenge Christians in positions of leadership at all levels, who so often succumb to the lure of power and material wealth, while putting their professed Christian beliefs on hold, to hear the words of Isaiah – that “the people that walked in darkness have seen a great light.” I challenge the Nigerian Christian elite to abandon the madding crowd and to return to the values, virtues, and principles that have been the distinguishing mark of authentic Christian disciples all through history. Yes, I challenge my fellow Christian countrymen and women, not to make their Christianity a matter of lip-service only, but to strive to respect the basic human dignity, decency and rights of all citizens, rights that are too often trampled upon, denied or curtailed at the whims and caprices of an uncaring political and economic elite.
I challenge those who hold in their hands the fortunes of the present and future generations of the Nigerian people, to look beyond the gains of the moment and think of the multitude of Nigerians whose chances of meaningful existence are often truncated and aborted by their thoughtless actions. I challenge the generality of Nigerians who are celebrating Christmas at this time to recognise and uphold the sanctity and inviolability of the human person, for Christmas is about how the Creator Himself loves human beings and accords them such dignity that He sent His only Son into the world to save them from the damnation that accompanies a life of sin and debauchery. Those who claim to have faith in the incarnation should demonstrate in all spheres of human interaction the civilization of love preached by Christ Jesus in his earthly ministry, that love which as men and women we have so often rejected to own peril. I challenge those of the younger generation, particularly the children of privileged Nigerians, who have been spared much of the travails of the overwhelming majority of Nigerian children, to prepare themselves towards turning around the fortunes of our suffering people. Yes, privileged Nigerian children should be constantly reminded of the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, that “from whom to whom much has been given, much is expected.”
Christians in general should rise up and show practical demonstration of the concept of sacrificial love as exemplified in the Incarnation and in the passion and death of Jesus Christ, such sacrificial love that can transform our society from a less just, less human, less secure and less peaceful and prosperous environment, to a more just, more human, more secure and more peaceful and prosperous environment. Recall that on the first Christmas night the angels sang: “Glory to God in the highest heavens, and peace to men and women of goodwill.” May all who claim belief in God at this time strive to be men and women of good will, so that we may enjoy the divine gift of peace proclaimed by the angels over two thousand years ago. Amen.
By Rev. Fr. George Ehusani, Executive Director, Lux Terra Leadership Foundation