The celebration of Christmas
For us in Nigeria, this Christmas celebration and the festivities associated with it have come more or less as a relief at the end of a traumatic year economically, socially and politically. The fortunes of the generality of our people have worsened in the course of time, and especially the young people have had to bear the hardships imposed by a floundering national environment on many fronts. Lack of jobs, inadequate healthcare, high cost of education, lack of affordable housing, the escalation of hunger and poverty, poor social and economic infrastructure, have all conspired to nail Nigeria’s masses to the lower rungs of the ladder of development.
With numerous promises unfulfilled and countless hopes dashed, the masses stoically bear the hard times and are left wondering where and when succour will come, what with the elevated levels of social and economic insecurity in the land, a condition the political class reads differently. Leading up to Christmas our sick President is hardly in a position to affect the dwindling and disparate fortunes of the vast majority of Nigerians. In a sense, the health of the leader appears to be a curious metaphor for the multiple pathologies of our nation-state.
In spite of this, the resilient Nigerian will not be put down. While the devout Christian is ready to claim this day of Christmas and all its spiritual promises as a welcome relief or joyful interlude for the nation, other celebrants will not be denied the yearly ritual and opportunity to partake of the social dimension of Christmas indulgence and camaraderie. This day is the ultimate towards which many struggle all year, and not even the enduring hardship of fuel scarcity will dampen their resolve.
Palestine at the time of Jesus was in more or less similar circumstance. With Pontius Pilate as the Governor and Herod as the Tetrarch of Galilee, tax collectors, soldiers and other security agents constituted the occupation force that in alliance with local leaders visited untold hardship on the people. The poor were often neglected, the sick had little succour and the lepers were banished under strict rules. Widows, orphans and the handicapped were at the margins of society with little or no social regard.
The birth of Jesus was to bring about a brand new social conditioning, a new vision of the essence and purpose of the human being as a divine creation, destined for abundant life in God’s Kingdom. Christmas is good news for a world plagued by hatred, violence, oppression, poverty and disease. According to the prophets of old, the coming of Christ will inaugurate for humanity a kingdom of peace where "the wolf will live with the lamb and the infant play near the hole of the cobra." Jesus came to propagate the values of this kingdom and to inaugurate the civilisation of love as a pathway to peace in this world as well as to union with God in the hereafter.
Jesus’ exemplary ministry was to lead the way – healing the sick, restoring sight to the blind, empowering the weak and speaking in favour of the oppressed and marginalised. In a nutshell the coming of Jesus was to drive home the core social responsibility of humankind in the kingdom – feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, house the stranger, look after the sick, visit the prisoner. In other words be your neighbour’s keeper, whoever that neighbour may be. The celebration of Christmas therefore should be the celebration of these new values that Jesus enunciated. And Christmas is meaningless if these values are not taken into account.
Christmas is also a celebration of hope. When conditions are at their very worst, the commemoration of the birth of Jesus Christ should enkindle hope in God’s imminent intervention. Rather than give in to despair Christmas is the time for Nigerians to encourage one another along the way of virtue, justice and probity, believing firmly in the ultimate triumph of good over evil. We can sustain hope when we begin to practise the humanistic principles of Jesus and to live out his kingdom values within our various spheres of activity and influence. On this note, we wish all Nigerians a peaceful Christmas celebration, the difficult times notwithstanding.