Christmas and the family
Essentially, it is at Christmas time that we re-live in a special way God’s presence among men. The joyous conviction that we are not prodigals lost in the wandering land. Every Christmas, we are encouraged to deeply consider the unfathomable mystery of incarnation (conception and birth of Jesus Christ). To meditate that God took our human flesh, was born like us and lived amongst us. That man’s creator has condescended to become man.
The book of Prophet Isaiah aptly recaptures the blissfulness of the season: The wolf lives with the lamb, the panther lies down with the kid… the cow and the bear make friend…the infant plays over the cobra’s hole, into the viper’s lair, the young child puts his hand". They do not hurt nor harm. Therefore, let the anxious take heed. The wearied shall find strength. The oppressed will find justice. Peace to men of goodwill, integrity will return to the wasteland.
I fully appreciate the significance of the forthcoming Christmas celebration, there is need to dispel some false images about Christ. Some recognise the humanity of Christ, seeing Him as one greater figure like William Shakespeare, Mao Tse-tung, Karl Marx etc that have altered the course of human history. But they fail to recognise his divinity. The other image only affirms Christ’s divinity but denies His humanity. The true profession is that Christ is truly perfect man and at the same time truly perfect God. He is of two natures. One divine and the other human not confused but united in the one person of Christ. Without accepting this, one may merely see the incarnation as a political vision that projects its own view of salvation through social change alone.
Christmas which is believed to be a season of our Lord Jesus Christ as He is the reason for the season should be celebrated with the joy that a New King has been born. It is also believed to be a season of reconciliation between husband and wife, brother and sister, father and son, mother and daughter, sister and brother and vice versa. This season should also be celebrated with love to the less privileged, the fatherless, the motherless, orphans, widows, widowers, prisoners and all who need our love in one way or the other.
But the most important Christmas lesson, for me, is the lesson on poverty. With his own life Jesus has elevated poverty to the level of a virtue. Kings are born in palaces or in big hospitals but Jesus Christ chose to be born in a manger in Bethlehem. His guests were not Kings and Emperors and governors but poor animals, shepherds and later some wise men. In the first months of His birth, He experienced suffering, want and deprivation. Herod was after Him to kill Him until Joseph His father took Him and His mother Mary and fled to Egypt. Jesus accepted to be poor to the extent that He had nowhere to lay His head. He fled hungry. He experienced human weaknesses. He later died on the Cross. He could have exempted Himself from all these human frailties and shortcomings. Why did Jesus, who created all the beautiful material things of the earth, choose to become poor? Why did He choose to be born in a manager instead of a comfortable hospital where Kings are born? Jesus chose poverty so that we too could imitate Him and become poor like Him. For He says: "Whoever does not renounce himself and follow me cannot be my disciple". To the rich young man, He said: "If you want to be perfect, go, sell all what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in Heaven; and come, follow me". On another occasion He says: "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal…" And in the Beatitude He teaches: "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven".
But unfortunately we live in an age of crass consumerism and materialism. Instead of seeking true joy in the message of Christmas many seek joy in drunken orgy. The meaning of Christmas for such people is stuffing the stomach with food and washing it down with alcoholic drink. In Nigeria the "eating" culture has led to the perversion of our cherished values. As Christmas approaches, different people are busy plotting how to "eat" at Christmas. The street beggar becomes more aggressive in begging. The commercial vehicle drivers drive recklessly. Policemen lay siege to the country’s roads to extort money from motorists. The man working in an office tries to cut corners to become rich overnight.
At the root of all these cravings is the new acquisitive culture which values man only for what he possesses not for what he is. Thus is the tragedy. According to St. Jose Maria, when people build their happiness exclusively around the material things of this earth, they pervert their use and the purpose for which the Creator has created them. In any case, however we may try we would not succeed in building the best world where there will be no difficulties, pain and suffering. In fact the greatest pain in life is to delude oneself into thinking that a time will come when there will be no more pain and sorrow. Our pathway on earth as wayfarers is painted with sadness and joy. For example, the joy of the first Christmas more than 2000 years ago was marred by sorrow. Herod wanted to murder the infant Jesus but when he realised that he had been tricked by the wise men he ordered the massacre of all the innocent male children in Bethlehem. Today we still have many modern Herods in our midst killing in different forms.
Amidst the tension and fear in the world today, Christmas comes to rekindle hope of a better tomorrow. Christmas time creates the atmosphere to build bridges across the troubled waters of political, ethnic and ideological differences. As for us in Nigeria we need a new humanism based on true civilisation. We need a new Nigeria made up of real human beings not unruly horses. We need sanity in this country. We must learn to see our neighbours as human beings not mere instruments that pave the way for our own material comfort and enrichment. Just look out and see the madness on the country’s roads. But we must hold our heads high in optimism.
Pope John Paul II, the people’s Pope: Throughout his pontificate his watch-phrase was: "Do not be afraid". Following this watch-phrase we cannot be afraid of anything, not even the Cross – that inflicts pain and sorrow because the Cross is the emblem of the redeemer and a way to happiness. Jesus Urteaga, one of the few Spanish writers and TV personalities who have managed to put cheerfulness on the faces of the modern young has written another book entitled: Always Cheerful. The book, as its title suggests, is an exhortation to cheerfulness for the young and young at heart. Because with cheerfulness and joy in our faces, we can at Christmas challenge the sad world to look at us and be hopeful.
- Adibe lives in Lagos.