The light that shines in the darkness
Christmas Message given at Our Lady Queen of Nigeria Pro-Cathedral during the Christmas Day Mass, December 2022, by Archbishop I. A. Kaigama
Readings: Is. 52: 7-10; Ps. 98: 1-6; Heb. 1: 1-6; Jn. 1: 1-18
The light that shines in the darkness
The beautiful season of Christmas is here again. At the heart of Christmas is the acknowledgment of the gift that God has given us in Jesus Christ. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, so that all who believe in him may not perish, but may have eternal life.” (Jn. 3:16). The season of Christmas is an invitation to know God personally. We are challenged to welcome Christ into our hearts in a way that He becomes real to us, more than a concept or figment of imagination, for He comes to us as a Friend, a Helper and a Saviour. He is “Immanuel”, God with us. God never abandons His own. He is always there; ready to save and to liberate us from the evils that plague our times.
Every year, we pause to acknowledge that divine generosity and we give thanks for it. The season of Christmas provides us a unique opportunity for conversion, purification and renewal. We reaffirm that “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and Word was the God… through Him all things were made” (Jn. 1:1-3). The incarnation provides us the unique opportunity to listen, obey, and learn from Jesus and to follow Him closely and intimately. Christmas is a time to renew our faith and confidence in Him. Long ago, Isaiah proclaimed: “The people who walked in darkness has seen a great light” (Is. 9:2). He painted a beautiful picture of a better future – a world without weapons and terror, a world in which the violent play with the newborn, in which evil instincts become servants of life and truth (Is. 11:6-9).
We reflect on how at the fullness of time Jesus was born through a young girl (cf. Gal. 4:4) who was ready to say yes to God and risk everything without fully realizing the implication of her self-abandonment. In the story of Christmas, we hear about Joseph, a man of great dreams, who accepted God’s will and together with Mary silently and lovingly brought up Jesus. Christmas brings together the wise men and the shepherds on the same page with each group doing its own thing and yet meeting God in the process. We also hear of an unnamed man who lent his stable to a stranded couple to have their first child and received great blessings for doing so.
Like the people listed above, Christmas teaches us that we can all make a difference to change our environment if each one is prepared to do his bit in his or her own little corner. Celebrating the coming of the Son of God calls for conversion, for action and for positive choices. We must resist the temptation to be among those who only let themselves be lulled by the emotion of the season without converting their heart. Or those who love the Christmas atmosphere without really letting themselves be shaken or shaped by Christmas.
The celebration of Christmas should impel us to do everything conceivable to better the lot of the poor. After concluding this Mass in the Cathedral, I shall be going to visit the internally displaced people’s (IDPs) camp in Kuchingoro where together with the JDPC and the UFUK Dialogue Foundation (an Islamic Foundation), we shall distribute food and other items to them. It is our Christian duty to help needy or estranged family members and the least of the brethren and to re-establish true fraternity with all people. Every Christmas, the Lord challenges us to look beyond ourselves and recognize the signs, perhaps even become ourselves the signs of hope for the many who feel alone, hungry, worried, abandoned and are homeless at this time.
The spirit of Christmas is that of togetherness, reaching out in solidarity and joy especially in these hard and difficult times. It is a time to make a difference, in our relationships with neighbours, social interactions, etc, to be more embracing, selfless and homely. A truly Christmas culture consists in volunteering support to the needy, visit to the elderly, less privileged, etc. We are urged to be of good cheer and waken the Christmas spirit in us.
Prophet Isaiah speaks about the joy that stirred Jerusalem at the return of the Jewish exiles from Babylon. The returnees are filled with jubilation, singing exultantly in praise of God. They recognize the great handiwork of God at their return to Zion. This joyous return foreshadows a greater restoration that was brought about by Christ, not only to Israel but to all nations. By His nativity, God draws nearer to console and comfort His people. This is the joy of Christmas which we firmly profess in the Nicene creed, ‘for us men and for our salvation, he came down from heaven’.
Surrounded by so much bad news and associated with some of the worst scenarios – poverty capital of the world, one of the five most terrorized nations on earth, one of the countries with highest child mortality due to malaria – our people are in dire need of anything that can inspire some hope. Together – both people and government, we must sincerely work towards that change that brings hope. This festive season therefore should lead us to develop and maintain good personal relationships with others, irrespective of cultural, religious or social inclinations. It is Christ-like to be the first to extend a hand of friendship, dialogue and reconciliation to an aggressor, to seek for what brokers peace, sustains harmonious coexistence and builds up a civilization of love. We can imitate Christ by taking the message of peace to the troubled hearted, giving kind attention to the needy, and by identifying with those in deprivation, even when uninvited or where there are no expected material rewards.
When we really think about it, Christmas is about three simple things without which the celebration would be pointless:
It is about the gift of giving: of Christ’s gift of peace, joy, happiness and the fullness of life.
It is about the gift of kindness: our own acts of kindness to all whether we are politicians, professionals or just ordinary people eking out a living from the land.
It is about people: a time to think about other people and not just about us. A time of healing and renewed strength.
For the government and people entrusted with leadership at all levels, Christmas beckons on all to place people in the centre of both politicking and governance by ensuring safety and security, reconciling all the fragmented parts of the nation and providing an enabling environment for the economy to thrive again as a precondition for remedying the worsening problem of poverty and living crisis for most Nigerians. While we acknowledge with delight the recent heightening of the tempo of the war against anti social elements and the encouraging results that has brought, we urge the authorities to sustain these measures and do everything imaginable to secure every part of the country and ensure an auspicious climate for the coming general elections.
However, no matter how much the use of arms has achieved, we must not forget that honest dialogue can also be a veritable tool for collectively building a Nigeria of our dreams that looks after all. That spirit of dialogue should govern the current political campaigns towards the 2023 elections and above all, ensure fair play and respect for the opinion of the people when eventually expressed when the ballot is cast.
Even though much of the world has embraced Christianity, many are still in rebellion, preferring darkness to light because of their sinful lifestyle (cf. Jn. 3:19. Like Jesus we must “go about doing good” (8:3); break down barriers of hostility and be good neighbours to all irrespective of tribe or religion or political affiliation. The wicked King Herod killed the innocent children in the attempt to eliminate Jesus. Let our politics not be one of “kill and eliminate.”
We pray for peace in Ukraine and those troubled parts of the world. We remember prayerfully and with great affection those in Nigeria who are presently in the hands of kidnappers, bandits and terrorists and those who suffer extreme poverty. We place our forthcoming elections in the hands of the Lord Jesus, so that they will be peaceful and fair. Let us resolve to spend more moments adoring our Lord, Jesus Christ, who truly is present in the Most Holy Eucharist. Jesus is waiting for you! Let us become little Christmas presents to the needy on the streets and in desolate places; to bring joy to the downcast, hope to the hopeless, comfort to the sorrowful, support to the vulnerable and ultimately to help open hearts that Christ may be born anew in the hearts of men and women.
I wish you all a blessed Christmas and a New Year of great hopes.