PEACE, BE STILL
Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols organized jointly by Nigerian Television Authority (NTA), Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria (FRCN) and Voice of Nigeria (VON), at the National Christian Centre, 5th December, 2021.
Message by Most Rev. Ignatius A. Kaigama, Catholic Archbishop of Abuja
Theme: PEACE, BE STILL
The theme of our Assembly is “Peace, be still.” May the peace that emanates from Jesus the Prince of Peace abide with all of us now and forever. As I welcome you to this year’s festival of nine lessons and carols, I echo Psalm 133:1 and say, how good, how wonderful, and how pleasant it is for brothers and sisters to assemble in the National Christian Centre, Abuja, in love and peace. We have listened to nine readings from the Bible. Hebrews 4:12 tells us that the word of God is active and alive; a double-edge sword which has a great transforming power. Psalm 119:105 says the word of God is “a lamp to our feet and a light unto our path.” I hope the word of God we heard this evening will have a positive impact on us now and all the days of our lives.
A woman wept continuously during the sermon at a church service. The preacher thought he was preaching so well that the woman was touched to the point of weeping. After the service, he asked the woman why she was weeping, and the woman said it was because he, the pastor, was wearing a long beard and as he spoke, his beard was moving up and down which reminded her of her only he-goat killed by a car the day before!
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, the prayerful reading of scripture (in Latin, lectio divina), is highly encouraged, because the word of God has a transforming impact, and can stir in us a great craving for love and peace, because it narrows artificial social gaps, and demolishes the walls of hatred, prejudices and unhealthy stereotyping.
As Christmas approaches, feverish preparations are underway. Many travel back to their towns and villages; budgets are made for what to eat, dresses to wear, and how to have lavish celebrations. Some drivers drive at break-neck speed and cause multiple accidents. We therefore implore drivers to drive with very great caution; those who take the advantage of the season to inflate prices should be charitable, and those who arbitrarily increase transport fares even before the rumoured not-too-favourable government decision to remove fuel subsidy, to be considerate.
In the name of God, we passionately appeal to those who threaten the lives of Nigerians on the roads, in the farms, at places of work or detain innocent people for money including many children, to have a serious rethink. Our government must take a critical look with firm actions to ensure that people feel safe and can go about their normal lives.
Even in the midst of the multidimensional problems we face such as the COVID-19 Pandemic, the inhuman activities of terrorists, kidnappers, bandits, militant herdsmen, combative agitators etc. as well as poverty and unemployment, we are called to live by faith, walk in hope and to be renewed in love as we prepare to meet the Lord. Let us be still and know that the Lord is God (cf. Ps. 46:10).
Tonight, the bible readings recall how loving and generous God is; how God created this world, making man and woman in His image and likeness. They betrayed God’s love and were expelled from the Garden of Eden. God chose the people of Israel through whom He wanted to redeem the rest of the nations, but they were often unfaithful; worshipped idols, committed acts of injustice against the poor and the weak.
God raised prophets to show them the way back to Him. God promised in Isaiah 7:14 the birth of a Son by a virgin, to be called Immanuel. When the fullness of time arrived, God sent His Son, formed from a woman (cf. Gal. 4:4). Hebrews 1:1–2 affirms how God had spoken in many places and in many ways, in past times, lastly, in these days, he has spoken to us through a Son. Isaiah 49:15 reminds us that even if a woman forgets or does not cherish the son of her womb, the Lord never forgets us. By the incarnation, God wanted us to share in His divine life and in Jesus; we who once lived in darkness have seen the light.
At the birth of Jesus, the angels sang songs of peace. Peace is our song tonight. We are not merely preparing for a social feast but the total acceptance of Christ and His message of peace, love and reconciliation. Christmas should not be turned into a carnival, a jamboree, a commercial opportunity, a routine cultural event or the vain display of wealth. This mentality was perhaps why a man who could not afford to slaughter a goat for his family Christmas celebration went to the abattoir and bought the head of a goat and displayed it in front of his house to give neighbours the impression that he and his family had so much to eat even with the leftover of the head of a goat!
The spirit of Christmas should inspire us to political, social, and religious peace; to beat our swords into ploughshares, spears into sickles, not to lift up swords and knives or fire bullets at others, and not to continue to train for war. Rather, as Isaiah 11:6-9 says, the wolf will dwell with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the kid, the calf with the lion and the lion and the sheep will abide together, and will not harm or kill.
Despite our cultural and religious differences, there is room for peaceful coexistence. We must remember the olden days when we shared gifts at Christmas to all; and at Sallah, we excitedly received gifts from Muslims. We must work harder to restore the fraternity and friendship that once characterized our relationship, now overgrown by distrust, suspicion, polarization, prejudices, etc.
Sadly, like the self-righteous Pharisee, obsessed by his virtue in Luke 18:9-14, members of each religious group in Nigeria often think other people are the sinners, bad people, criminals or enemies. The Pharisee standing prayed, “O God, I give thanks to you that I am not like the rest of men: robbers, unjust, adulterers …. I fast twice between Sabbaths. I give tithes from all I possess….” Each Nigerian should look in the mirror. That person you see is not blameless; work on him or her.
As we celebrate the birth of Jesus, let us not forget she who through her cooperation with God’s will, the incarnation became a reality. Many Christians forget that Mary was the instrument God used to give us Jesus. We must celebrate her too. All Christians who love Jesus must love Mary. She is our mother. Jesus said in John 19:27 to John and so to all of us, “Behold your mother”.
Mark 11:24 says, “Whatever you ask in my name in prayer believe that you will receive it.” We ask tonight that as Jeremiah 29:11 urges, all Nigerians will think thoughts of peace, not war.
Let us ask for a spirit of true repentance and admit the crimes we have committed against one another, to genuinely consolidate our brotherhood and sisterhood as Nigerians.
Let us ask Jesus to help us resist the temptation to be restless or violent in the face of real or perceived problems, but to rest in Jesus who is the Way, the Truth and the Life (cf. Jn. 14:6).
Every Nigerian should stop, reflect and resolve as Prophet Micah urges, “to act justly, love tenderly, and to walk in humble fellowship with our God” (6:8), and with St. Francis of Assisi, we ask the Lord to make us instruments of peace. Where there is hatred in this country let us bring love, where there is injury, let us bring pardon, to achieve the much needed social transformation and progress for us all.
Brothers and sisters, Jesus stands at the door and knocks. Let Jesus the Saviour in (cf. Rev. 3:20). He will take us to higher grounds and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed to us (cf. Is. 40:5). We shall emerge a better people, a better nation, bound in freedom, peace and unity. Let us not for any reason give up; it shall be well with our country Nigeria, it shall be well with our families; it shall be well with our youths, and we shall all flourish and blossom once again.
We implore God to forgive us and to give us the grace to also forgive; to embrace and support one another. Our definition of a neighbour in Nigeria is often too parochial. Instead of being of one mind (cf. Phil. 2:2-3), we engage in bitter contention and vain glory. Are we surprised that there is conflict, violence, inhuman treatment, injustice, corruption and inequitable distribution of our God-given resources?
Sir Ahmadu Bello, the former Premier of Northern Nigeria, in his Christmas Message of 1959 said, “We are people of many different races, tribes and religions, who are knit together by common history, common interests and common ideals. Our diversity may be great but the things that unite us are stronger than the things that divide us…. Let us … remember the common brotherhood before God….”
May the grace of the birth of Jesus permeate every corner of our lives, families, places of work and the entire nation, to allow a new dawn of fairness and genuine interpersonal relationship, fraternity and friendship.
I wish us in advance, a blessed Christmas and a very safe and prosperous New Year. Let us not despair. The Lord cares! God bless us all.