By Albert Afeso Akanbi
“And when the Lord Jesus has become your peace, remember, there is another thing: good will towards men. Do not try to keep Christmas without good will towards men.” -Charles Spurgeon
My friend Okozie is a spare part vendor at Ladipo Market in Lagos. Preparation for last year’s Christmas started quite early for him; 5 months before 25 December to be precise. He’d leave home as early as 5am, return as late as 10pm, sometimes later. At the market, his desperation to make money would be so obvious from the way he’d “harass” every passerby in sight, especially those he felt were prospective customers. His mission; he wanted to make as much money as possible to enable him have “a Christmas to remember”. He wanted to go home with a sleek car and all manner of goodies that would ensure villagers knew he had “arrived”.
He blended in perfectly with the insanity in which almost everyone runs around these days in preparation for the annual holiday, and for him it paid off.
Then it was Christmas day. Okozie had arrived a day before with pomp and pageantry and so much noise. Soon after his arrival, he and his men and taken over his village and boozed till the early hours of Christmas day. In fact, an incident which occurred following their excess consumption of liquor on Christmas Eve, leading to the injury of one of them, involved the police. By the time he came out of all of that and fell asleep from hangover, it was 7pm the following day. By the time he came to, Christmas was over and he woke to multiple challenges waiting to be solved.
Inasmuch as I am not trying to sniff at merriment this season, this story is just a typical example of how most of us understand Christmas today, something that has nothing to do with the sacred story surrounding the essence of Jesus’ birth and the purpose of his life.
The annual Christmas rush we see today wears out many and conveniently takes peoples mind from the purpose of Jesus’s coming and what is expected of man to his fellow man.
I believe this is hypocritical on the part of both Christians and non-Christians alike. If non-Christians don’t believe in the birth of Christ, then why do they go to the trouble to recognize the holiday? And if Christians truly wish to honour the birth of the Saviour, then why engage in the madness and licentiousness which accompanies the holiday these days rather than focus more on its meaning?
In almost every street today in this country, churches with strange names engraved on different shaped and sized signboards pock their heads from street corners to invite faithful. Yet, despite this upsurge in religious activities, in our everyday actions as a people, we have never ceased to deny the very significance of Jesus Christ in history how much less grasp the full essence of his birth. Daily we make a mockery of the very core of Jesus’ birth and purpose which is LOVE (the supreme form of living energy) for God, for neighbours, goodwill towards men and life as sacrifice.
Christians must take note that apart from a quarrel with the December 25 date, most of the people who have problems with the celebration of Christmas do so because of the level of debauchery they see during the feast.
For example, a prominent anti-tithing OAP sometimes last year or so, insisted that “Christmas is Nimrod’s birthday, keep Christ out of it”.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses for example claim that since Jesus didn’t command us to mark his birthday and his apostles didn’t celebrate it, we shouldn’t. Even though that would be tantamount to saying we know exactly everything the apostles or even Jesus said or did when they were here, who would see the way we mark his birth today and wouldn’t pause for a moment and say, “wait a minute, will Jesus really approve of all these?”.
People today generally miss the underlying value of Christmas, which is the amazing sense of giving and sharing. God is a giving God, and Christmas reminds us that we are supposed to be like Him. This is why I for one, though aware of all the objections, still choose to celebrate it.
Those who look at the materialism that accompany the celebration and thus reject it on the basis of that are in other words telling us it is right to reject Christmas because we are all imperfect.
I have made this point before and I will make it again, liturgically speaking, Christmas is a season, not a day, and it important for us to bear that in mind. December 25 may not be the actually birthday of Jesus and may be pagan yes, but the season itself, its meaning and essence, and the figure we celebrate are not.
For those hammering on its pagan origin, well, we now have a new ‘paganism’ layered on top Christian holidays (holy-days). For example, most language have their roots somewhere. Most days of the week if not all, months of the years, etc. grew out of what many would insist are pagan names too. Until groups like Jehovah’s witnesses stop using the word or worshiping on “Sun-day” because it was related to the worship of the sun god once upon a time, I won’t take them serious on Christmas.
Which modern speaker of the English language today thinks of “Sun-day” as carrying a connotation of sun worship? Yet that’s the very nature of language and almost everything we believe today which we don’t even care about their origins.
Christmas now means what we make it in the Christian way and Jesus’s birth, message, death and resurrection are the most important events in human history according to Christians. Not to mark these events in some way, by way of special celebration, would be foolish.
I have also heard some people say since all days are special why should we set one day apart? Well, if all days are special then no day is special, so why then do they have a problem with those who choose 25 December? I think the American Reformed Baptist pastor John Piper summed it perfectly when he wrote that “It’s really worth the risk, even if the date of December 25 was chosen because of its proximity to some kind of pagan festival.”
The essence of Christmas is share, in God’s LOVE and exhibit goodwill towards men, as demonstrated by God Himself. There is an episode which the gospel of Mark calls ‘The Loaves’ which I believe somehow explains in a way what the spirit of Christmas call us all to do.
This story can also be found in the Bible books of Matthew 14: 13-21 and John 6: 26. Some commentators have explained that the crowd was fed because they learnt from Jesus how to share. But others insist that the clue to the meaning of this incident is in the original story as it is recorded in the bible. ‘Make the people sit down’. This was what Jesus was reported to have ordered before he blessed and broke the bread. A truer translation of the very words spoken by Jesus on that day would be ‘Make the men sit down’. Sit down O men and pause for a moment. God has entered into his own creation, suspend everything you think you know and reflect on the meaning of that.
“Make the men sit down!” Jesus said. Make the Essenes, the Pharisees, Judas Iscariot with his dagger sit down. Make Simeon the Zealot, with his patriotic band of terrorist guerillas sit down. Sit down! O men of Israel. I believe this is the true meaning of Christmas. Jesus gathered together a huge crowd of people in a desert spot, and made them sit down together. He made them break bread together and eat a simple meal and admonished them to LOVE one another, follow God’s example and show goodwill towards one another.
Sink your difference differences, ignore the smaller picture (of the merriment, the licentiousness, the gifts, the noise and all that, of Christmas) and focus on the big picture (of God’s love, sacrifice and goodwill towards men) and as you go about this season, let that guide your actions going forward.
If only every Nigerian, Christians and non-Christians alike heed this call. Major General Buhari and his APC would obey court order, he would do what is really right for Nigeria. He would shun nepotism. If we heed this call, we would “love your neighbour as yourself”, the touts sent to beat up Nigerian activist Deji Adeyanju yesterday morning would not take the offer. Boko Haram would pause their satanic quest for innocent blood and “sit down”.
This is the true meaning of Christmas. Yet, average to the Nigerian Christian today, the reality is prayers to God for Him to kill our enemies. As if that is not enough, a very destructive hate culture and materialism has now invaded the very fabrics of our souls, to the extent it has subjugated the very essence of Christmas in particular and religion in general and pitched us against ourselves. Politics has failed, the family unit is crumbling, economics has miscarried, our one-time-culture of love and community is eroded, relationships are disappointing, and in fact everything is deteriorating around us in this country. Charlatans in sync with politicians now easily disguise today as religious leaders and then with base intent at heart, together they wreck all forms of barbarity and madness on us and Major General Buhari not helping matter.
Who will save us now?
All the same, may the spirit of Christmas fill your heart with hope and happiness and may the sacrifice of Jesus Christ abide with us all this season and beyond, amen.
Albert Afeso Akanbi is a Public Policy Analyst.