By Ace Omozuwa
Dear reader, merry Christmas. It is my earnest wish that the blessings of this season will suffuse every facet of your life, our beloved nation Nigeria, and the entire human family.
Christmas offers many opportunities. It is a time of festive reunion, gift-giving parties, and deep reflection. Sadly, it is also a time of exploitative commercialism, mindless consumerism, violent crimes, road rage, etc. Some see it as the best time to travel and flaunt their latest medals of materialistic success. The essence of Christmas is well-defined, but its modes of observance are dynamic, ever changing. Hence, we all experience Christmas differently. In fact, from a diachronic or synchronic view, it is clear that the meaning of Christmas is not univocal. Let me attempt to paint some pictures of the times we live in. Thereafter, explore the significations of Christmas in a world battling with tsunamic forces of evil.
A former American President, Roland Regan had the moral courage to look at the former Soviet Union and called it “the evil empire.” Evil is not a word that is commonly used by secular leaders or in academic circles, perhaps because, apart from its extremity, it is morally loaded. The question is why did Regan call the former Soviet Union the evil empire? Truth be told, there are many answers to this simple question. For me, it is the fact that it was a system that made injustice sacred, and profaned the sacredness of human life. It was a system that exercised power without benevolent control. If you look around the world you will see many places where the exercise of power is uncontrolled by ethics and sound principles of governance.
Man’s relentless pursuit for happiness is utterly unattainable in any society where justice is not the cornerstone of social life. I am afraid that we live in an era when socio-economic, religious, cultural, and political forces have conspired to disdain the concept of justice, and its centrality to human flourishing. Every day on our streets and in the corridors of power we witness a trial of strength between justice and injustice. Sadly, injustice often wins. To drive home the point, an example may suffice. Go to any prison in Nigeria, and you will find many inmates who have been there for many years for alleged petty crimes without trial.
Justice is a necessary condition for peace. The social symphony of peace, progress, and egalitarian development is composed by justice. When it is fashionable for people to trade their convictions and pervert justice, conflict becomes a fixture in the sociopolitical order. It creates the moral climate for the evil empire to thrive. The evil empire is not a far-flung reality. It exists in homes where fathers are monsters. It exists in offices where bosses are sexual predators. It exists in states where governors do not pay pensioners their stipends but host lavish parties with public funds.
We live `in turbulent times. Chaos and uncertainty hugely define this era. If nightly news portrays reality, then, it is true that the lack of peace has endangered humanity to a life of abject misery, and a chasing after illusion. The kind of illusion that placates inner turmoil, yet, leaves the soul festering. The harsh realities of life disrupt inner tranquility and force many to take refuge in illusions. And very often the boisterous winds of life shatter our cherished illusionary fortress and we typically seek another route of escape from reality. Constant uproar has made modern man a fugitive from reality. He manages to maintain a great semblance of sanity by trading reality for fantasy. Some of these fantasies are very innocuous, for example, the notion of technological messianism.
Very new technological innovation comes with promise of liberation, liberation from boredom, liberation from the scourges of ageing, liberation from social confines and pressures. Technology promises to liberate man from the yoke of finitude. It often introduces itself to us as a stairway to transcend self, time-space barrier, and all the limits of nature. We embrace technology like ancient Egyptians who sought immortalisation, and therefore, embraced mummification in the hope that someday humanity will find some alchemy that will awaken them to life.
Consumerism has exploited the promise of technology. The governing logic in consumer cultures is that “happiness belongs to those who are thin and buy things.” Hence, the primary objective of many is to earn more money, and spend more. The art of living the good life is now about earning and spending money. The problem is this consumerist philosophy of happiness leaves us emptier and always in search of the next big thing. It turns contentment to a vice.
Every ad tells us “happiness belongs to those who are thin and buy things.” So, we worship at the altar of whatever will make us skinny. We can sacrifice all for it. We buy things to make us happy and soon after they sap our joy and plunge us to the cesspit of misery. The problem is compulsive buying subtly alienates us from people. When we start befriend things we start building walls between ourselves and others, and ultimately we start objectifying people.
Self-glorification, which is the most popular religion of our day, is the ultimate form of self-harm. Modern conception of beauty and self-glorification has made anorexic epidemic. The difference between anorexic beauty model and mystic pietistic sadist is blurring. They look like one and the same.
What is the meaning of Christmas to the glory seeker? True glory comes from introduce beauty and meaning into the lives of others. The birth of Christ is celebrated because He came to introduce man to a higher form of glory. We all can enrich people. It may be with a smile, or by saying a nice word, or by offering a hand of help. We can lift people out of poverty, misery, and confusion.
What is the meaning of Christmas to the peace seeker? Christmas and peace are interwoven. Peace was the central theme of the angelic proclamation of joy to the shepherds who kept their flock by night: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favour rests.” Peace is a byproduct of justice and just living. It does not happen by accident. Hence, this Christmas we should resolve to be active agents of justice and peace.
It is commonly said if there is peace in Nigeria, Nigerians will experience peace. Without collective peace individual peace is jeopardised. In the same way, the peace of Nigeria is dependent on the peace of every citizen, and the peace between each citizen. The world will be a magnificent place to live in if we hearken to the enjoinment of Holy Writ and “follow peace with all men.”
What is the meaning of Christmas to the non-content consumerist? The birth of Christ in a manger says that the palace is not always the locus of glory. Our quest for material splendour could debase the essence of life, if not moderated by contentment. Without contentment it is vain to dwell in houses of gold, and drive chariots of diamond. Jesus was born in austere conditions yet He lived a life of eternal significance, because His priorities were well ordered.
If we have inner peace the allure of consumerism will fade. Contentment and inner peace go hand in hand. Imagine the transformation that will happen in Nigeria if our leaders are content with what they have. Corruption will be a thing of the past. The tide of injustice will abate as people in positions of power will not conveniently trade their convictions for fortune, fame, and pleasure.
As we celebrate the birth of Christ we should endeavour to embody His principles: “You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘carefull,’ you find yourselves cared for. You’re blessed when you get your inside world — your mind and heart — put right. Then you can see God in the outside world. You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.”