The Year 2020 has become remarkable for the ravaging presence of the COVID-19 pandemic; the nationwide peaceful protests against police brutality and bad governance in the month of October that was brutally crushed, and the senseless destruction of lives and property which followed the crushing of the protests; as well as the unprecedented level of insecurity, on account of the unrelenting Boko Haram insurgency and the ever more audacious criminal exploits of kidnappers and those referred to as bandits across the country. Particularly distressing is the dreadful state of life in much of Northern Nigeria, where dare-devil terrorists and bandits control large territories, killing, maiming and abducting citizens virtually on daily basis, and where state authorities are, now and again, having to pay huge ransoms to criminal gangs to secure the release of their abducted citizens.
Yet today, Christians in Nigeria and elsewhere are enjoined to put up a bold front in celebrating Christmas, because the event itself is the herald of glad tidings, for as the Prophet Isaiah says in respect of the Messianic era which the birth of Christ inaugurates: “The people that walked in darkness, have seen a great light; and on those who lived in a land of deep darkness, a great light has shone.” Christians are people of faith and hope, bound in the promise of a more wholesome dispensation that would emerge with the coming as man of Jesus the Son of God. Yes, the Messiah whose birth Christmas commemorates, is the Anointed One whom Prophet Isaiah says will proclaim good news to the poor, will bind up the broken hearted, will comfort those who mourn, will proclaim liberty to captives and release to prisoners, and will declare the Lord’s year of favour.
Christians believe that the child born to a Virgin in the lowly environment of a manger in Bethlehem, is the quintessential Good News for wearied men and women of all times. Jesus the Word Made Flesh is the Savior, the Redeemer, and the Liberator of humankind. He whose birth is celebrated at Christmas is the Wonderful Counselor, the Lord of lords, the King of kings, and the Prince of peace. And it is through his life, his death and his resurrection that darkness and sin shall be conquered, and the fortunes of men and women of all generations shall be changed. He invites all suffering men and women, saying: “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”
As we approached this day, the precarious state of our country remained very well ingrained in the psyche of Nigerians. The level of suffering at various fronts hardly needs repeating. A few have lost close relations to COVID-19. Some have been through trauma at the hands of criminal gangs that are operating more or less freely across the land. Others have been humiliated by worsening economic fortunes. But the good news of Christmas is that God’s intervention is imminent. Christians in Nigeria therefore need to rise up during this festive season and be fired by the hope of individual and cosmic transformation which the incarnation represents. At the end of a very trying calendar year, Nigerians need not be in perpetual mourning over the dire circumstances of our country. It is worthwhile casting a hopeful glance at the future, anchored on the glad tidings which the Christmas celebrations of today represent for us and for humanity as a whole.
If we must dwell ceaselessly on the hardships of the day and not take time out to reflect on the hope of liberation, we would forever be weighed down with a dampened spirit. True, we may be weighed down with a myriad of daunting challenges, struggling for survival amid a menacing second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic; and trying to find our balance in the face of hunger, joblessness and life-threatening insecurity. And yes, our country may be awash with corruption and superintended by a ruling class that appears clueless, inept and incompetent. Yet, Nigerian Christians can step forward in faith and hope and work towards building a more just, more secure, more peaceful and more prosperous society, using the gospel values of sacrificial love, mercy and compassion, such as are exemplified in Jesus of Nazareth, the Master who stooped to wash his disciples’ feet, the King who died on the Cross so that his people may have abundant life.
The celebration of Christmas today should challenge Nigerian Christians to go beyond lip-service and empty sloganeering and take their Christian commitments seriously. It is time for Nigerian Christians to live out their vocation as “salt of the earth and light of the world.” Christians should take up the challenge of shinning the light of hope for a land that is bedeviled by multiple forces of darkness. This is the time for believers to show gratitude for the many blessings they and their families have enjoyed in the course of the year, notwithstanding the challenges of the day. Christmas is a time for warding off negativity with positive thoughts and narratives of individual transformation and national rejuvenation. Is this not what the famous Christmas Carols are all about?
Our Christmas celebrations this year may be low-keyed and devoid of flamboyance, because of the COVID-19 safety protocols and the attendant restrictions at public gatherings and celebrations, yet the joy of Christmas cannot be taken away by the pandemic or the widespread insecurity in the land. Instead, Christians are called upon to share the Christmas joy by reaching out during this season in love and compassion to the many needy people in their environment. Christmas is about a God who loves the world so much that he sent his only Son… There is no better time for Christians to give concrete witness to that love than during this season. And on this note The Guardian wishes all our readers, and indeed all Nigerians a very happy Christmas!