Christmas 2020 – Gladness in Darkness, By Fr. (Prof.) Anthony Akinwale, Guest Writer
It has been tough this year. But the joyful celebration of the birth of the Son of God comes as the year nears conclusion. Let it be reiterated, albeit in passing, that, contrary to what some people would want others to believe, Christmas is not a pagan feast. It is not feast of a Sun-god but feast of the Son of God. For Christians do not worship the sun but the Maker of the sun, he who is, as we profess in our Creed, “God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God.”
The birth of Jesus, the Son of God, brings light to us in darkness. It is fulfillment of the words in the book of Isaiah the prophet, words of the First Reading at the Midnight Mass: “The people that walked in darkness has seen a great light, on those who live in a land of deep shadow dark as death a light has blazed forth” (Is 9:1).
Those words were first spoken almost three thousand years ago. The people who first heard them were witnessing political turmoil. There was thick darkness over their land, darkness of violence, darkness of imminent invasion. They lived in the southern kingdom of Judah. They had seen how the northern kingdom of Israel was invaded and defeated by the kingdom of Assyria in 732 BC. They lived in fear that the catastrophic invasion of the north by Assyria was a disturbing prelude to the invasion of their own land, to loss of their land and to their deportation. If the enemy had conquered the north, surely, the invading bandits would be encouraged by their defeat of the northern kingdom to match southwards. These “southerners” lived in the darkness of fear.
But Isaiah proclaimed gladness in the darkness of imminent invasion: “You have enlarged the nation, you have made their gladness greater; they rejoice in your presence…. For the yoke that was weighing on him, the bar across his shoulders, the rod of his oppressor, these you break as on the day of Midian. For all the footgear of battle, every cloak rolled in blood, is burnt and consumed by fire” (Is 9:2-4)
Nigerians who hear these words of Isaiah this Christmas live in the darkness of violence. Like inhabitants of Judah who were threatened by insecurity in the north, we witness deeply worrisome insecurity in parts of northern Nigeria. We too live in the darkness of fear. Our highways are no longer safe. Neither are our homes. Our peace is threatened by a cocktail of violent groups while our government repeatedly demonstrates its helplessness. There is hunger in our land. There is insecurity. There is, above all, not only COVID19 pandemic, but also a COVID-419 pandemic. COVID-419 is a pandemic of insincerity.
From the beginning to the end, this has been a year of great pain, year of bandits and kidnappers, year of murderous herdsmen and Boko Haram, year of righteous indignation over police brutality met with brutal slaughter of young Nigerians at the Lekki Toll Gate, Nigeria’s Tiannamen Square. With COVID-19 pandemic and its attendant extremely harsh economic conditions, this has been a year of darkness across the land and throughout the world. Walking through the darkness of this year, it seems there is no good news anywhere.
But there is good news in the words of Isaiah, and there is good news coming out of Bethlehem. There is consolation in the birth of a child, a child whose birth is God’s gift of ending war and bloodshed. “For there is a child born for us, a son given to us and dominion is laid on his shoulders,” says Isaiah.
The name given to the child would mark him out as one through whose birth God is offering peace and justice to humanity: “Wonder-Counsellor, Mighty-God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace” (Is 9:5)
The good news coming out of the manger in Bethlehem is that the child of whom Isaiah spoke lies in a manger wrapped in swaddling clothes. And the angel announces to the shepherds, “Do not be afraid. Behold, I bring you news of great joy, a joy to be shared by the whole people. Today in the town of David a saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord” (Lk 2: 10-11).
The good news is that the little child is the Saviour of the world. The good news is that, while many leaders abandon responsibilities of their office, God is showing his love to the world. The good news is that, while powerful human leaders treat those they govern with scorn, at Bethlehem, the Mighty God descends into our lowliness in a manger showing the foolishness of human leaders who flex their muscles in the erroneous belief that they have power over life and death. In the midst of political intrigues and military maneuvers within and among nations, God descends into our world in the innocence of a child. And the light the fragile little child in Bethlehem radiates exposes and puts to shame the fraud, propaganda and hypocrisy of the powerful, the hypocrisy of pretending to be God without being like God. The Almighty becomes weak to show that we human beings are not as powerful as we think. We are uncomfortable with the limitations of our humanity. So, we want to be God. But God has come to show us that it is alright to be human.
On our own part, each of us must allow his or her heart to be a manger, a birthplace of simplicity, of innocence and light. We must let the light of Christ, the innocence of the child born in Bethlehem, enter our world by first entering our individual hearts. Let this innocence be harboured in our thoughts such that our words and our actions will bring about positive change in our world, beginning in our families, our homes, and our country Nigeria.
Nigeria is in need of transformation, and the need is urgent. This much-needed transformation cannot happen without sincerity, without each person battling to overcome the tendency to outwit and manipulate the other person, the seemingly irresistible temptation to take advantage of others. We must tell each other the truth. We must tell our leaders the truth, and our leaders must be truthful in relating with us. There is a dangerous level of manipulation going on in Nigeria, and everyone is complaining. It is a situation where, to use the interrogatory words of Jamaican reggae singer, Peter Tosh, “everyone is talking about crime. But tell me: who are the criminals?” It is a situation where many get away with the crimes they commit.
As we celebrate the birth of the Son of God, Saviour of the world, we must pray for Nigeria, using the words of Isaiah the prophet: may all the footgear of battle, every cloak rolled in blood, be burnt and consumed by fire. But we must not only pray. We must work together for justice and peace in this land called Nigeria. The task cannot be left in the hands of our politicians. We the people must take the lead since our leaders have repeatedly demonstrated their unwillingness to take the lead in building a just Nigeria.
Our problem is not the Fulani or the Yoruba or the Igbo. As Bob Marley sang: “Divide and rule could only tear us apart.” Our problem is neither ethnicity nor religion but the divide and rule tactics of those who would exploit our ethnic and religious diversity to gain access to corridors of power so as to gain monopolistic access to the wealth of the land. They have been able to succeed largely because they have been able to convince a gullible populace that our problems are ethnic and religious.
We Nigerians need to acquire a consensus on the type of justice we need, and such consensus must cut across ethnic and religious boundaries. The just society we have an urgent duty to build is one in which every Nigerian may live anywhere in Nigeria and actualize his or her potential. Then shall all the footgear of battle, every cloak rolled in blood, be burnt and consumed by fire. Then shall we live in a land that enjoys peace and prosperity.
© Father Anthony Akinwale, OP
Rev. Fr. (Prof.) Anthony Akinwale is the Vice-Chancellor, Dominican University, Ibadan, NIGERIA.