Laughing and crying at Xmas
In Christendom, this singular act stands on the same template as the story of Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden as part of the extended story of Creation in Christian eschatology. The Birth of Jesus, celebrated today soon came to define the value-system of one of the world’s most popular religious orientations. There are Christians who do not agree that Jesus was born on December 25, Jehovah Witnesses for example, and there have been writings pointing to the claim that the Feast of December 25 has its roots in ancient pagan rites of the Essene Cult or the Great White Brotherhood.
Some students of ancient mysteries insist that Jesus Christ is not God per se, but a Master, one of the enlightened souls in a long list of chosen Avatars, a Master of His Age in an evolutionary chain. But whatever is the true date of the birth of Christ, or the conception of His mission, there is hardly any doubt about the significance of His Life, and the lessons that he taught. Jesus Christ was the Divine Consciousness in Human form, teaching humanity the path to salvation, and the link between man and God. His life and mission as reported in the New Testament were distinguished by high values: humility, compassion, love, selflessness, duty, service, temperance, honesty and honour. These same values are in very short supply in Nigeria which ironically is one of the most religious countries in the world. Close to half of the country’s 140 million population is Christian. Every day, Nigerian Christians wear their religiosity on their sleeves. Nearly every street has a church.
On weekdays, the unemployed, widows, widowers, the sick, the aged, the depressed, the unmarried troop to the churches in search of God and salvation. They are quick to call upon the Lord Jesus Christ. “Blood of Jesus” is probably one of the most popular phrases in the country, and definitely one of the most abused. There is also “In Jesus Name” or simply “Jesus Christ!” Some offices in Nigeria do not start business in the morning until Jesus has been summoned to take charge of the affairs of the day. Every meal is handed over to Christ to guide and bless. In Christian homes, Jesus Christ is said to be in charge, he is in fact the unseen landlord. Government functions usually begin or end with the name of Jesus. Nevertheless, as we celebrate Christmas 2009, I think of how un-Christ-like Nigerian Christians are.
They relate to Christ as a talisman. He makes meaning to them as an OPC, or Egbesu, or as a symbol to be called upon for the purposes of ensuring balance between Muslims and Christians. Considering the number of churches in this country, if the Christian doctrine was being taught and observed, this should be a different land. Christians, in or out of government, do the exact opposite of what Jesus taught. They know very little about His life or the values that He represents. They don’t love their neighbours. They are impatient. The Lord Jesus taught us to shun materialism and not to engage in evil deeds. Many of the looters of the Nigerian treasury are big men in Nigerian churches. Among those accountants who falsify company reports and mislead investors are Christians. Nearly every bank chief that was indicted in the recent shake up in the banking sector is a Christian. And so today, as Christians celebrate in Nigeria , the hypocrites among them should search themselves. They should ask themselves probing questions: am I worthy of the title Christian? Am I His disciple or a mere pretender? Judas Iscariot followed Jesus Christ everywhere, but for a few shekels, he betrayed him. Verily, verily, we are in the age of Judas.
It is, sadly, his example that has endured among men and women who for filthy lucre will sell their kith and kin and ruin the community. They have taken over the church, encouraged by equally guilty clergy. The church of Nigeria , as a general body must ask itself whether or not it is making a difference. Many Christian leaders in Nigeria have latched on to the miracle aspect of the ministry of the Lord Jesus, and so they claim that they see visions, they can heal the sick, they sell olive oil and white handkerchiefs, but in reality they are not teaching the Word, rather they are promoting sorcery. They have forgotten that Christ did not set up a church. His Ministry was not a family business. He did not own a private jet. He didn’t travel first class. He had no bodyguards. He was not a spiritual consultant to presidents and company directors. They call His name, but they do not know Him. Many Nigerians go to church to worship the Pastor not God.
On hypocrisy: as it is with Christians, so it is with Muslims and other religious groups. There is a great need for soul-searching among all who call upon the name of God. God is the source of unity. He is One. The consciousness of God that is shared by all Nigerians should translate into bigger achievements in the community, better behaviour and greater enlightenment. We have lost touch with Him. He no longer speaks to us; we no longer hear his voice. The spirit of Judas has blinded us to the path of faith. And so on Christmas day, we can only cry and laugh. We laugh because we are prisoners of hope. We are forever hoping that the dark clouds in the horizon will clear and that our tomorrow will be brighter. Hope without effort is in vain. We cry because our country is a veritable symbol of faithlessness. A friend and his family have gone off to Dubai for the Christmas holiday. The moment they arrived in that enchanting land, they could not hide their excitement. They called to exclaim that Dubai is ten times better than London ! They abused Nigerian leaders for wasting our oil wealth and turning Nigeria into a big question mark. The children said they would rather live in Dubai , not Nigeria .
It is not difficult to know a country where God still speaks directly to the people. We are a forsaken nation. But don’t blame God, blame the hypocrites. My friend and his family would soon return to Nigeria : they will be returning to fuel scarcity, irregular power supply, a life dominated by sundry criminal activities: kidnapping, armed robbery, accidents and grand corruption, widespread poverty and frustration. Our Lord Jesus Christ loved the poor. He talked about their special inheritance. In Nigeria , the poor are forever poor; they have neither this earth nor the world beyond to inherit. They cry and laugh in their helplessness. Christmas, so close to the end of the year, suggests a certain closure but it is only a year that ends; not the people’s suffering.
The halo of tragedy with which every year has ended since 1999, and beyond, makes life and living in Nigeria such a harrowing experience. Every year, nothing changes. The substance of tragedy is in the interplay of opposite values. Our self-pity makes no difference to the fears that haunt us. We are playthings not of fate, but inept leadership, and our own hypocrisy and self-indulgence. The Master Teacher told his disciples: “I am giving you a new commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you… By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love among yourselves” (John 13: 34, 35). If the Lord Jesus were to resurrect a second time today, he would tell Nigerians: “enough of your deceit!…”
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