In the spirit of the season and out of respect for the Christians among us, we will take a break tomorrow and resume our dialogue on Dec. 26. From Lagos came an editorial by the Guardian, to wish you a happy Christmas and New Year.
CHRISTMAS is here once again. It is the day when Christians celebrate the central mystery of their faith, the mystery of the incarnation, by which God sent His Son Jesus Christ into the world in order to save all generations of humanity from a life of sin, injustice, wickedness, violence and death, and to establish on earth a civilisation of love that is more in accord with the will of the Almighty Creator. Christmas is about Jesus Christ, the child born 2004 years ago in Bethlehem. He lived a life that in very many ways impacted people profoundly.
In the over two thousand years of Christianity, many individual Christians and Christian organisations have demonstrated heroic commitment to the spiritual disposition and value orientation of Jesus Christ. Many religious, social welfare and educational institutions have arisen and have continued to thrive at the inspiration of Jesus Christ, and for the benefit of humanity. Jesus' preferential option for the poor, and the good news which His coming into the world heralds for the sick and downtrodden, are often expressed by His followers in the establishment and management of hospitals, orphanages and destitute homes, and in their preaching of justice as a constitutive dimension of Christian evangelisation.
These efforts have contributed in many ways to healing and humanising a world that is otherwise plagued by multiple tragedies and disasters, a world of oppression and social injustice, a world of pain and anguish. The birth of Jesus changed the course of history manifestly.
His message of love, truth, justice, human solidarity and freedom, has inspired some of the most progressive individuals and movements in human history. Yet the event of His coming was profoundly inauspicious. There were no earth-shattering natural heralds, nor human proclamations to welcome Him on the day. Life in Bethlehem went on normally as Mary and Joseph went around looking for a room in an inn to stay. Finding none, they retired to a manger, which was to be the birthplace of Jesus.
And from the child born in this lowly place was to flow the knowledge of the Supreme Creator, the grace of healing and the compelling message of salvation for the entire world. This is why Christians see the birth of Jesus in the flesh as the miracle of all miracles. Those who believe in His word and are ready to abide by His teachings have the supreme confidence in everlasting life after death. But not all who saw Him even in His own time recognised Him and not all who recognised Him believed in Him.
However, for His billions of followers, birth of Jesus which is celebrated by many on December 25 every year marked the beginning of a remarkable rescue mission for humankind, a mission from God to save His people from the dominion of Satan the evil one, a mission to establish the kingdom of heaven, a kingdom of love and peace, of truth and justice, of universal brotherhood and solidarity. Jesus fulfils in His person and challenges His followers to bring to full realisation the dream of cosmic equilibrium contained in the message of such classical prophets as Isaiah who got a glimpse of a future era of bliss where the wolf will live with the lamb, the panther lie down with the kid, calf, lion and fat-stock feasting together, with a little boy to lead them; a world where the cow and the bear will graze together, their young lying down together; a world where the lion will eat hay like the ox; where the infant will play over the den of the adder, where the baby will put his hand into the viper's lair, and there will be no hurt, no harm.
Marking the birthday of Jesus has occasionally thrown up the argument even among Christians concerning the accuracy of the date and the importance or necessity of celebrating it at all. But the occasional celebration of an event as a reminder of its profundity is a means of maintaining a linkage with the past and sustaining the import of the event. The essence therefore of December 25 is not in the accuracy of the hour of the birth of Jesus but in the event itself.
Hence it appears an idle argument to say that the celebration of Christmas that has become a global event is unimportant and unnecessary. Just as there is rhythm in life itself, marking the birthday of Jesus regularly breathes meaning into the Christian's appreciation of the One who is central to the sustenance of life, as well as accords the believer a relevant occasion to reflect periodically upon his or her relationship with the Giver of life and the quality of his or her discipleship. The celebration of Christmas serves the purpose of keeping Christians tuned to their divine origin and to the pathfinder to their immortality.
Yet Christmas is celebrated in Nigeria today amidst a depressed economy with many young people losing hope and meaning in life and taking to criminality and hooliganism. There is so much misery, hunger, suffering and human degradation in the lower rungs of our society. We celebrate Christmas amidst the wails and groans of the ever increasing population of poor Nigerians whose fortunes seem to be worsening by the day. We celebrate Christmas in Nigeria amidst a plethora of crises on the political front, with the highest level of leadership enmeshed in the most embarrassing crisis of credibility on account of manipulated elections and the filthy agreements and mid-night covenants that preceded the exercise. As the world celebrates Christmas, the level of public morality in Nigeria is at its lowest ever.
In our personal and corporate lives our value orientations have been badly corroded. As a people claiming one destiny and one nationhood, we are far removed from the spiritual sobriety that the life of Christ and the season of Christmas demand. Our nation is structurally, environmentally, socially and politically fractured and polluted, and the liveliness normally associated with the celebration of Christmas is more in evidence in its absence.
And this should be a major source of embarrassment not only to Christians, but also to all who profess any religion at all. Of deepening concern in Nigeria is the level of economic and social destitution that has blighted the joy of Christmas for many a family. The cardinal social indices of peace, justice, security, employment, prosperity and health have suffered severe setbacks in the course of this year leading up to Christmas.
Yet Nigerians are incurable optimists and people of resilience. In spite of all the stress and deprivations they will not be denied; they will not pass up the once-in-a-year opportunity to celebrate Christmas no matter how sparsely. True, the shops may not be as full and as busy as before, there may be fewer hampers and corporate gifts around, fewer kitchens may have turkeys to prepare, and there may be smaller bonuses, delayed bonuses or none at all paid out by employers to cushion the hard times for employees. The perennial increase in fares notwithstanding, Nigerians will still struggle to make it home for Christmas.
Within the circumstances of present day Nigeria, the year 2004 Christmas challenges Christians and all good people to reflect, as always, on the spiritual, moral and humanistic values and ideals put before us in the life and teaching of Jesus Christ. These values and ideals include the pursuit of truth and justice, option for the poor, humility as a way of life, self-sacrifice for the good and welfare of others, generosity with one's talents and resources, and above all a life saturated with love, integrity and righteousness.
Excessive consumption in an environment of hunger, depression, deprivation and human suffering is an aberration at Christmas. As our leaders at all levels entertain their cronies and close ones at this Christmas season, it would be spiritually beneficial for them to take a sober look around the Nigerian landscape and observe the effects of the work of their hands. It would be spiritually cleansing for the Nigerian political elite to face up to the reality of the depressed visage of their fellow citizens.
A nation engaged so spiritedly in political shenanigans to the detriment of national cohesion can hardly celebrate wholesomely a feast founded on the truth, the justice, the mercy, and the sacrificial love that is Jesus Christ.
While The Guardian joins Christians everywhere in paying tribute to Jesus Christ on this occasion, and we wish all Nigerians safety in celebration, we urge our leaders to utilise this special Christmas time as a genuine retreat to imbibe the virtues that the infant Jesus came to illumine and to chart a veritable course for truth, justice and integral development in the land. Thus, beyond the eating and drinking by individuals, and beyond the commercialisation of the annual celebration by corporate organisations, Christmas 2004 calls for a sober reflection among Christians and indeed all men and women of good will on the moral and humanistic challenge put before us in the life and teaching of Jesus Christ.
Christmas challenges the political manipulators, the ethnic war-lords and other merchants of violence and misery in our society to think seriously of the cumulative effect of their individual activities on the Nigerian society. Christmas is the celebration of the birth of the One whom Christians recognise as the Prince of Peace.
Christmas this year should therefore rekindle the hope of peace and prosperity for our countrymen and women especially the lowly poor who have often been pushed to the margins of despair. With the celebration of Christmas we should hold on firmly to our faith that soon, very soon, good shall overcome evil, truth shall overcome falsehood, and light shall overcome darkness