“A Christmas that is celebrated in the assurance that the environment is unsafe for freedom of movement would seem for some better not celebrated.”
The erstwhile President Goodluck Jonathan on the 1st of November, tweeted on his twitter handle after playing guest to the Church of Nativity Ikoyi, Anglican Communion, that ‘’2020 has been a year of many challenges as individuals and as a nation, yet in the midst of these, there are many reasons to thank God.’’ The realities of the year 2020 are uniquely bizarre, frightening, and precarious. The second wave of the ever infectious Coronavirus, Covid-19 is causing panic across the Mediterranean Sea. Countries like Italy, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland amongst many others in Europe, are on national lockdown, or what I may consider regional lockdown, for a second time this year. In the United States of America, the virus is reaching unprecedented number with incredible speed. The resumption of schools earlier on was a booster of hope that life will get better soon. At the moment, these schools are getting shutdown. Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York recently announced the closure of NYC schools because of the surging cases and deaths from coronavirus. The recent Thanksgiving Day celebration saw a lot of parents, grandparents and children and relatives missing from family tables owing to the demise of some family members, those critically ill and also so many who cannot travel because of the restriction on movements. In fact, speculations have it that by the time the United States’ President-elect, Joe Biden, resumes the White House, he may impose a stringent national lockdown to curb the geometrical spread of the virus that seems to be altering the course of world events.
Here in Nigeria, the average citizen’s plight has gone past the horror of the pandemic; other excruciating realities- hardships- have taken our minds off this public health hazard. Our dear country is hit by another recession, in fact the second time in four years. The level of poverty is high because of lack of employment, poor education and maladministration. This has domesticated hunger and frustration in many homes. Many Families can no longer afford three square meals a day, and if they do they have only the option of munching on yam and plantain. Many Nigerians cannot have rice as part of home menu because of the exorbitant price of rice in the market today. Rice has become a luxury only meant for the rich and those celebrating one thing or the other, like wedding, anniversary of all sorts. The living situation in Nigeria is worsening every day. Some days ago I screeched at a filling station and the attendant rushed at me, persuading me to buy from her pump. And then she said to me: ‘’bros, we don increase fuel o!’’ So I gazed at the Petrol Pump, it read N170. From our conversation, she feared there might be shortage of petrol or another hike, if not a total lack of the product soon. It really appears to be a Christmas in difficult times!
Trailing behind the reality of poverty and hunger in the land, is the sickening reality of insecurity of life and property in Nigeria. A Christmas that is celebrated in the assurance that the environment is unsafe for freedom of movement would seem for some better not celebrated. It is a truism today that Nigerians travel from one state to another putting their lives at risk. This is not only occasioned by bad roads but also by the influx of bandits and kidnappers on our pothole- filled roads. At present there is a panoply of cases of people traveling for their day to day transactions only to be declared missing persons. Benin City, the Heart Beat of the nation, the metropolis of the village that I write from, has become a den of robbers and all forms of crime involving fire arms. Assassinations and kidnappings are recorded almost on daily basis on the highways leading to the city and intra the city. There are cases of cult groups brandishing Kalashnikovs (AK47) and other deadly weapons broad day light with impunity. The fact is they eventually unleash mayhem with these weapons. These daily experiences of insecurity and the culture of death have become ubiquitous in our dear country. Those who live in the northern parts of the country live in the shadows of death. The peaceful and well intentioned #ENDSARS protests received, as its aftermath, loss of lives and arson. Families of slain protesters are in grief from losing their loved ones. Those whose billions-worth of properties were burnt down and goods stolen, cannot be healed in a hurry. The pain would be there even at Christmas. These are the challenges that Christmas is meeting us in 2020.
Christmas is an annual commemoration of the Nativity of Jesus Christ, celebrated mainly on December 25th as a religious and cultural celebration among billions of people around the world. It celebrates the birth of a child in Bethlehem to the Virgin Mary, this child (Jesus Christ), the angels proclaimed to be the Saviour of the world. For Christians, Christmas is a time of the assured presence of the Saviour in their lives; a time of renewal and hope in the difficulties that cut across their everyday struggles. And for non- Christians, it is a major festival and public holiday that affords them time to rest, meet families, friends and catch some fun outside work routine. The salvific implication of Christmas benefits everyone; Jesus was born over a thousand years ago to redeem the world; to bring hope to a world on the brink of the grave. Advent is a significant part of Christmas. There cannot be a Christmas without an advent- a period spanning four weeks. It anticipates the coming of Christ from three perspectives: the physical nativity in Bethlehem, the reception of Christ in the hearts of believers, and the eschatological second coming. According to Mark Link, SJ, ‘’advent is the season when we call to mind the terrible situation that the world was in before Jesus came.’’ The world’s situation today could somewhat be likened to the world God sent His Only Lovely and begotten son to redeem. Indeed, our world is passing through a déjà vu experience. Jesus will come again to redeem and renew the face of our world. Through this advent, let us intensify our prayers for the rebirth of our sick and dying world; let us show love to our brothers and sisters especially those at the edges of life.
Above all, let us entrust our world, particularly Nigeria, to God in prayers. As we pray for our world we also pray for ourselves for a change of heart, that God should disorientate the innate evil of greed, avarice, hatred and injustice we carry about. Quickly we remember 2 Chronicles 7:14,’if my people, who are called by my name, would humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sins, and will heal their land.’ This Christmas should be a time to open ourselves to the light of Christ in order to illumine our minds and heart with the virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity; prudence, Justice, Fortitude and Temperance. These virtues in their distinctive character make us capable of acting as God’s children and meriting eternal life. On the other spectrum, they also dispose us to lead moral or good lives, by aiding us to treat persons and things in the right way, according to the will of God. Let us be hopeful that the coming of Jesus will lift up every valley, and every mountain will be mowed down, the uneven ground will become level and the rough places made plain. Jesus is coming to wipe away tears soaked in our eyes by the pangs of pandemic, injustice, discrimination, police brutality, bad governance and impunity, poverty and hunger. It is our hope that we would see the light at the end of the tunnel.