Time to reclaim nigeria’s greatness
Christmas Message By Bishop Matthew Hassan KUKAH,
Catholic Diocese of Sokoto
1. Muted Joys of Silent Night in Bethlehem:
On the very first Christmas night in Bethlehem, an angel of the Lord announced to the poor and lowly shepherds keeping watch over their flock in the fields that a Saviour had been born. Joined by a multitude of the Hosts of Heaven, the angel blasted the first Christmas carol, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to men and women of goodwill” (Lk. 2:8-14). In Bethlehem, the City of David the Great King, the birthplace of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, there is no celebration of Christmas this year 2023. The “good news of great joy for all the people” (Lk 2:10) which the angel brought to the shepherds is not going to be heard this year by the men, women, and children who are the brothers and sisters of Jesus in Gaza and the whole of Palestine. This is because of a senseless act of violence that has left more than 20,000 people dead, with children and women as the main casualties. Early February this year, Pope Francis reminded us, while visiting the Democratic Republic of Congo, that “Violence against women and mothers is violence against God himself, who from a woman, from a mother, took on our human condition.”
2: Bethlehem: The Manger is in Ruins:
The Christmas crib as we know is embedded in the spirit of Christmas. It usually has the baby Jesus, surrounded by Joseph and Mary along with the goats and the sheep in the manger. Today, however, the crib that lies in the Nativity Church has the baby Jesus buried in rubble, as a metaphor to the destruction that is the reality of today’s holy land. The Parish Priest said the idea is to call attention to the mind boggling, barbaric, cruel, frightening savagery that has shaken the foundation of Gaza. In other words, if the Magi came looking for Jesus today, the priest noted, they would have to dig through the rubble! Christmas night will be a silent night in Bethlehem. No carols. No lights. No celebrations. The place is a graveyard with the signatures of death, sickness, hunger looming. Yet, we Christians believe that there will be a resurrection. All we need to do is to stay awake in faith.
3. Let Us Look to the East:
Faced with the horrifying shadow of the Cross which has fallen over Palestine, we must pause, bow our heads in sorrow, and pray. For every victim of the ongoing carnage in the Holy Land, we must bend our knees to the Lord in prayer on this Christmas Day, imploring him, “Spare your people, Lord. Do not make your inheritance an object of scorn, a byword among the nations. Why should they say among the peoples, ‘Where is their God?’” (Joel 2:17). May “the Sun of Justice arise with healing in his wings” (Mal. 4:2). May “the Prince of Peace” (Is. 9:6) bring peace to the Land of His birth. May “Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor. 1:24) grant wisdom to all working for a peaceful resolution of the conflict in the Holy Land and in all theatres of violence in our world. “May justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:24).
4: The Shepherds and God’s Revelation:
For us Christians, the complex mystery of our salvation as manifested in the coming of Jesus can never be fully comprehended by human imagination nor can it be explained by history or philosophy. Christianity itself is a religion of serious ironies that are often seen as scandals in the human imagination. Yet, it is the very things that non-Christians see as scandals that are the bedrock of our faith. A few examples: How, many non-Christians ask, could God become a human being? (Jn. 1:1-14). How can we say that Jesus is the son of God? (Jn 5:19-20). How is it possible for a dead man to rise from the dead? (Jn 2:19, 21-22). If Jesus is God and came from Heaven and is prince of the world, how could he have been born amidst such misery? (Jn 1:11). This irony is further explained in the fact that the birth of Jesus was not announced in the temple to holy Priests at prayer but to poor Shepherds who were out in the misery of a cold winter night. Yet, amidst their vulnerability, God chose them as the first hearers of the good news of the birth of Jesus, the Saviour of the World and the Prince of Peace. In truth, God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, his ways are not our ways (Is. 55:11).
5: The Powerlessness of Power:
Every Christmas seeks to enact this seemingly incomprehensible history of ironies. Yet, rather than diminish, millions of persons around the world continue to give their lives to Jesus daily. Indeed “to all who receive Him He has given the power to become children of God” (Jn 1:12). Despite being sought after, murdered, imprisoned, thrown to wild animals, tortured in bonfires, ridiculed, with no earthly power or resources at their disposal, his almost illiterate followers, firing no human weapon, finally converted the Roman Empire. Their moral authority derived from the gift of the Holy Spirit that Jesus had promised them (Acts 1:8). Today, the irony of His life, his seeming powerlessness by human standards, his rejection of earthly power have offered the world a compass with which to navigate the hills and valleys of life’s uncertainties. For as He declares, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life” (Jn 14:6). “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Mt. 11:28). “Come and see” (Jn 1:39). “Taste and see that the Lord is good” (Ps 34:8). Christianity has continued to spread despite oppression and persecution even among us in Nigeria. The blood of martyrs has continued to nurture the growth of our faith. To God be glory and power for ever and ever. Amen.
6: The Message of Christmas is Joy not Happiness:
When the angel appeared to the Shepherds to announce the news of the birth of Jesus, he said: Do not be afraid, I bring you good news of great joy for all people (Lk. 2:10). As human beings, we often use Joy with Happiness interchangeably. The two mean different things. For example, Happiness is spontaneous, fleeting, momentary, ephemeral, short-lived and passing, often marked by open gesticulation. Joy on the other hand is very deep, reflective, solemn, awe-inspiring, sacrificial, meditative and often impossible to put into words. Money can buy happiness as we see when a rich man purchases an expensive car, builds a new house or buys a private jet. Yet, none of these can give joy. Money cannot buy sleep or give contentment because the human mind will always want more toys. Happiness is external while joy is internal. Joy guarantees contentment and peace. Joy enables you to swim the tide of tragedy with calmness, knowing that the rainbow of joy banishes the dark clouds of fear, doubt and uncertainty. In his first encyclical, Pope Francis, titled, The Joy of the Gospel, the holy father warned Christians not to allow themselves to be robbed of the joy of the Gospel.
7: Nigeria: A Nation Still in Search of Healing:
The 2023 elections have come and gone, well some might say, not quite. Despite the controversies, most of the processes have been concluded. In the course of the elections and their aftermath of violence, Nigeria did look like a crime scene. We cannot gloss over any of these deep wounds and scars. We must find healing. This is not an easy job for any nation and there are no short cuts to nation building. However, the last few years did test our collective resolve to stay united. Now, the government must devise strategies for achieving reconciliation which has eluded us. Our injuries are not invisible. Very many national Conferences have been held to chart a way forward. The trove of grievances and hopes are there and all the govern needs to do is to dust them up. No need to re-invent the wheel or attempt some new diagnosis.
8: Now, all Eyes on President Bola Ahmed Tinubu:
Mr. President, Sir, congratulations and a happy Christmas. Now, you have what you prayed for, what you dreamt of, what you longed for. For the better part of over twenty years, you have plotted to be our President. For years, you campaigned for a new Nigeria through restructuring or overhauling the defective machinery of the Nigerian state. For years, you fought the military and other forms of dictatorships. For years, you fought for the victims of a deep state. For years, you sought to create an egalitarian society. For years, you sought a just society. For years you have built networks with individuals, communities and institutions. Now is harvest time.
You are on the driving seat now. Under your watch, Nigeria must turn the corner. Under your watch, we must end the ugly instrumentalization of religious, ethnic or regional identities. You have had enough time to think of the answers to many questions that are crying for answers. Your future and that of our country is in your hands. M. President, you have no excuses before God or the people of Nigeria. Neither God nor history will not forgive you if you fail. This is our moment, our date with history. Now, all eyes and ears are on you. Our prayers for a united country are with you.
We have seen the first faltering steps of policy decisions which have elicited a mixture of controversy, anxiety and praise. This is to be expected. You have promised us a Renewed Hope Agenda, but know that hope has worn thin in our dear nation. Nigerians have almost lost hope in the fact that a government can really and truly care for them. Nigerians have lost hope in the fact that our politicians will put our interests first and find a way to deal with the cancer of corruption. We had lost hope in being united again given the seeds of division that had been sown. Ignite our hope again, Sir.
We now have seen some renewed hope in your effort to run an inclusive government. We want an end to partisanship. The problems of Nigeria are deep seated and they are based on a culture of corruption that has become the foundation stone of governance. This evil structure has to be dismantled. Nigeria’s problems will not be resolved by palliatives. The problems deep and are structural. Please do not be afraid to reset the template of power no matter the cultural or historical myths. We are tired of promises and stories. We want evidence we can see and touch.
Mr. President the killings of Nigerians by whatever name must end and end now. These senseless killings, abductions, extortions and kidnappings have to end and the sacredness and sanctity of human life restored. Blasphemy laws have no place in a democracy. We are not in a theocracy. Those who take life by whatever means must be fished out and punished. A culture of compensation to victims must be institutionalised and states must take full responsibility while criminals or those who hide them are fished out. We cannot go on this way. The seeds of hatred that have sprouted in Gaza show us the consequences of allowing a culture of distorted narratives to grow among us.
You must rid the public service of criminals who have turned the opportunity to serve into an ignoble enterprise. We concede that there are millions of decent men and women who genuinely wish to serve but are crushed by the deadweight of corrupt ogas at the top who use corruption as their oxygen! This surgery must happen if you are to succeed in any of your dreams of delivering much needed services to our people.
To be able to have credibility, your Renewed Hope agenda must be based on a solid foundation of faith and hope for the restoration of glory for our country. Scripture says that Faith is based on things hoped for, evidence of things unseen (Heb.11: 6). So far, a few of your key policies have unleashed a raft of suffering on the masses of our people. There must be a deliberate effort to restore hope on the faces of the poor and vulnerable in our society. We have heard the familiar stories of empty treasuries, and the efforts at investigations. We wait to see if anything will be different. Lay the foundation for ending the unnecessary sufferings of our people.
9: To all Nigerians:
I appeal to you all, let us stay the course in hope. God will do great things for our nation, but we each must renew our commitment towards self-examination and repentance. Good politics and good politicians can bring about change, but all of these require the commitment and honesty of citizens to be honest at all levels. I therefore call on Christians in particular in this season to become real models of our faith. Heed the words of Jesus to be, salt of the earth and light of the world (Mt. 5:13). The call to be a Christian is not a call to join an Association or a Club. The fourteenth century English poet Alexander Pope who said, “Christ may be born a thousand times in Bethlehem, but if he is not born in your heart, his birth has no meaning for you.”
It is Christmas! Sing with Bobby McFerrin, Don’t worry, be happy. Eat rice, have picnics, dance and drink mildly. But beyond that, let us find Joy. Roll up your sleeves and let us start the building of a nation of unfinished greatness called Nigeria. We can, we should and we must.
I know that our hope in our nation has been severely put to the test, but we must renew our faith in God. When the cylinder of the oxygen of hope seems drained, listen to Prophet Isaiah who said: Have you not heard, do you not know? The Lord gives power to the faint and to him who has no might, he increases his strength. Even the youth faint and are weary, and young men fall exhausted. But they who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint (Is. 40: 28-31).
10: Our Lady Queen of Nigeria, Pray for Us
At the heart of this celebration is the Virgin Mother of Jesus, a symbol of the purity of womanhood, a symbol of obedience and a reminder of the sacred womb that bore Jesus whom we celebrate today. May she intercede for our dear country. May our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ let the glory of God shine in us and our country. Peace to the world, peace to Gaza and a blessed Christmas to you all.