Christmas Message 2020, by Most Rev. Ignatius A. Kaigama, Archbishop of Abuja
“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given….and his name will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Is. 9:6).
My dear people of God, Christmas 2020 is here with us. I wish you and your families the grace and blessings of this Holy Season.
According to Karl Rahner, “At Christmas, through His grace-filled birth, God says to the world: ‘I am there. I am with you. I am your life.… Do not be afraid to be happy. For ever since I wept, joy is the standard of living that is really more suitable than the anxiety and grief of those who think they have no hope.… This reality, this incomparable wonder of my almighty love, I have sheltered safely in the cold stable of your world. I am there. I no longer go away from this world. Even if you do not see me. I am there. It is Christmas. Light the candles! They have more right to exist than all the darkness. It is Christmas. Christmas lasts forever.” (From the “Eternal Year” by Karl Rahner, S. J., 1904-1984 Quoted by Matt Emerson, “Rahner on Christmas”, America: The Jesuit Review, December 30, 2013).
For Cardinal Avery Dulles, “The incarnation does not mean that God saves us from the pains of this life. It means that God-is-with-us. For the Christian, just as for everyone else, there will be cold, lonely seasons, seasons of sickness, seasons of frustration, and a season within which we will die. Christmas does not give us a ladder to climb out of the human condition. It gives us a drill that lets us burrow into the heart of everything that is and, there, find it shimmering with divinity.” (From “The Legacy of Avery Cardinal Dulles, S. J., His Words and Witness”. Edited by Anne-Marie Kirmse and Michael M. Kanaris, New York University Press, 2001).
For many people, today, the thought of Christmas brings fatigue. It is not the religious aspect that causes the tiredness, but the overdrawn social rituals that surround it: the decorations, the shopping, the gifts, the Christmas trees, and the carols! The Christmas celebrations should ideally be a lesson in love, faith and hope.
What Christmas promises is universal peace, the lion and lamb lying down together; reconciliation, enemies forgiving each other; valleys of justice, love and peace filled up; food for all, every sheep carefully tended to; restfulness from our longing, everyone peacefully in loving company, healing from all wounds, and God himself drying every tear on earth. The Christmas crib is a symbol of that peace.
The hymn “Silent Night” captures the Christmas spirit. But our world, as we know, is far, far from being peaceful. If we have been following the news, there are few silent nights; there are threats of war and terrorism, with people killing in the name of God. The gap between the rich and the poor is unbelievably widening daily, millions are sick and dying of hunger, and today we have the very worrisome COVID-19 pandemic and other preventable illnesses, in a world richly endowed with great human and natural resources.
Our beloved country Nigeria very badly needs to hear that Good News again in a year that will soon leave behind deep, ugly scars on the psyche of both citizens and the nation. In it, our country quickly transited from one major crisis to another, making 2020 a year never to be forgotten in a hurry. The COVID-19 pandemic which began the previous year, wreaked havoc in 2020, bringing the whole world to a standstill and bringing down nations to their knees, socially, politically and economically.
The year has exposed to the world our economic, social and infrastructural fragility as a nation. Forced to stay and treat their ailments at home, I hope that our leaders have come to realize how our health institutions have a long way to go to meet decent standards. The same pandemic has triggered a deep economic recession, our second within the span of five years. The spiraling inflation that has followed suit has left many families unable to fend for themselves, making a country already known as the poverty capital of the world, even poorer. Our young people have been forced out of universities since nine months now, when the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) began a strike, with no practical and definitive measures taken by the Government to resolve the relevant issues of poor funding and infrastructural decay in Nigerian public universities. Only recently, we heard that the Federal Government has promised to look into the concerns of the ASUU. We hope that this materializes soon. When we were just beginning to think that the rest of the year would end peacefully, the EndSARS protests erupted across the nation leaving in its trail, blood, death and destruction!
Almost at the same time, the looting of warehouses, government offices and public property drew the attention of the world to our lack of shame. Now that the year is winding down, we are still grappling to make sense out of the drama as well as the release of the abducted Kankara schoolboys. Meanwhile, the downward slide of the security situation has made life unsafe both at home and on the roads, sending the vast majority of our fearful populations into a frantic search for places of refuge. In a nutshell, the harvest of sad events and occurrences in the year was so overwhelming that it seemed like the year would never end. Everyone, both those in Government and the governed, and even those among us who are arrogantly indifferent to religious values and principles, suddenly all needed the grace of God to survive and outlive 2020.
For now, we are certainly a people walking in darkness, the kind of darkness Prophet Isaiah referred to. Bandits, terrorists, kidnappers, poverty, sickness and death surround us. These have taken over and dominate our familiar routines and ways of life as we face constant fear and anxiety for both ourselves and those we care about. Piled on top of that are the painful manifestations of poor governance and lack of credible, caring leadership which results in growing acrimony between and/or among groups, itself the consequence of the multiplication of acts of insensitivity and injustice.
That is why we need the message of Christmas, that in Jesus Christ, God has entered our world to give us light and hope. He did not come in glory, but humbly took our frail human nature to share with us our weaknesses and the challenges of the human condition.
The Holy Father, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI taught that anyone who does not know God, even though he may entertain all kinds of hopes, is ultimately without hope, without the great hope that sustains the whole of life. Man’s great, true hope which holds firm in spite of all disappointments can only be God, God who has loved us and who continues to love us ‘to the end’, until all ‘is accomplished’ (Spe Salvi no. 27). Although hidden, the Son of God was found by those whose minds and hearts were open, those who acknowledged their need and turned to God for help.
Although in Christmas is God’s free offer of His salvation, what happens after that is totally dependent on whether we accept the offer, open the door, and make our hearts available as the manger. We Christians are expected to give ourselves totally to Christ. It is a contradiction to retreat to syncretism or idolatry after receiving Christ; appearing on Sundays elegantly dressed, but in the darkness of the night and the quietness surrounding the premises of the village soothsayer/oracle, some go to consult about their future or enemy and how to deal with such an enemy. We are called to be who we are – Christians. If we do not want to live and act as Christians, then we should do away with our Christmas celebrations, decorations and lavish eating, drinking and dancing, because it will just be a mere prolonged picnic with no value or spiritual consequence.
As a remedy to our precarious situation, we too, both as individuals and as a nation must search for God, hasten to Him with eagerness, and in the quiet times of prayer understand anew our need for conversion and return to Christ. Those entrusted with power must work hard to justify that trust. The ever-worsening security situation is but only a symbol of the lack of political will and the selflessness needed to confront evil and never that of incapability. Similarly, in our best interest, we the governed must cooperate with authorities at all times, giving vital information where and when needed in order to defeat terrorism and violent crimes. Although it is always our right to demonstrate, and show anger in the face of injustice and the incompetence of political authorities, no one has any justification for violence and for endangering the lives or the property of other citizens.
As this extraordinary year comes to an end, may we, through Jesus, the reason for Christmas, find shelter for our troubled hearts and souls; reassurance of God’s faithful and abiding presence amidst all the troubles that surround us, above all, may we find the strength and the courage to remain faithful to all that God is asking of us as we strive to heal our country and our world.
MERRY CHRISTMAS AND A BLESSED NEW YEAR 2021.