Monday, December 21, 2020

wo months ago I was on my way to the burial Mass of my former departed parishioner. I set off on time to avoid any unexpected delay along my route. As my eyeballs were rotating around, I saw a mushroom church situated beside the road. Above its main entrance door was conspicuously written in capital letters: GOD IS HERE. I became so curious to see that God. Hence I packed my car at a convenient place and stepped down. I was wearing my white clerical gown. Then I walked clerically towards the church where God is said to be enclosed. Theologically we know that God is everywhere. He is here and there. I wondered how God is chained in this make-shift church building. Having reached the place, I peeped through the door and saw a cluster of adherents singing and dancing. Their pastor was wearing red attire from head to toe. He was ringing a bell in his hand and chorusing, "God is here! God is here!! God is here!!!" I walked in and stood still at the door watching the scenario. Immediately the pastor saw me, he stopped ringing the bell. He cheerfully stood before me and then said, "My fellow pastor, welcome to this church, where God is." Then he turned to the congregants and shouted, "My brothers and sisters in the Lord, praise the Lord! We caught a big fish in our net today."

He turned towards me again and invited me to come to the centre and kneel down for reception and baptism in the spirit." I waved my hand and asserted, "Thanks for the invitation. Baptism is not done twice. I have been baptized and ordained a Catholic Priest. I am here to see the God who is here. Where is He?" The pastor ordered me, "Remove your shoes because this place is a holy place! Also pay your tithe here and now before you can see the God. If you refuse to do these two things, you will die instantly." I told him that I won't remove my shoes and that paying of tithe is not by force. He started shouting, "Die! Die!! Die!!!" I shouted after him, "I won't die! I won't die!! I won't die!!!" After exhausting the weapons in his arsenal, he fell on his knees and begged me to leave. I warned him about extorting gullible persons in the name of God. Finally I went back to my car and continued my journey to the aforementioned burial Mass.

When our country Nigeria was manageable, I used to drive alone to Abuja. But today I cannot embark on such dangerous lonely journey due to the bloody menace of Boko Haram terrorists, kidnappers, herdsmen, bandits and cultists who slaughter innocent people going about their businesses. Just last week I intended traveling to Abuja for some exigencies. I decided to embark on public transport. Thus I went down to Onitsha to board a commercial vehicle. I booked a seat in a Sienna air-conditioned commercial vehicle because of the excessive heat wave that tries to burn my skin this period. My seat number was 4. Having got seated, the driver gave me the Manifest to fill. I asked him what it was meant for. He stated that it is for documentation in case of an accident. Immediately I developed cold feet. I came to item number 7 which states: "Your next of kin and his phone number" Instantly my fingers began to tremble and my pen dropped unconsciously. I told myself that this journey is shrouded in uncertainties. There and then I cancelled the journey because Christmas is here. I didn't want to toil with the annual solemn celebration of the Word-Made-Flesh. I asked the driver for the refund of my transport fare. He showed me in the receipt given to me, where it is written in italics: "No refund of money after payment." I became dumbfounded. I decided to forfeit the money instead of forfeiting my precious life. I went back home with joy to prepare for the celebration of Christmas, which is here. The journey to Abuja can wait till after Christmas.

Christmas is here means that it is around the corner. When we were little children, we looked forward happily to the coming of Christmas. For us then, Christmas is a day we put on new clothes, wear new shoes (even if it is rubber shoes), put on plastic eye-glasses, wear false wrist-watch and eat plenty of stewed rice and meat. For our mother to cook yams on Christmas day is a taboo for us and an unforgivable sin. We go to church in the morning. In the afternoon we stroll from place to place, comparing our outfits with those of other children. We also ask people for Christmas monetary gifts which is stated in the vernacular as "Gbara m Kristimas."

It was when I became an adult that I realized that we were celebrating material Christmas as children. Even some adults are also guilty of it. Since we have dual nature, Christmas involves material and spiritual preparations. However, spiritual Christmas is most beneficial. The Word-Made-Flesh comes to us at Christmas and dwells in our hearts. But He cannot dwell in a heart full of iniquities. The Nativity of Jesus Christ which we celebrate today is centered in the heart of the believers and not in the manger at Bethlehem. Since Christmas is around the corner, have we reconciled with God and with our fellow human beings? Love of God and love of neighbor are sine qua non for true celebration of Christmas. We ought to repent and confess our sins, so that our Saviour can be born in our lives on Christmas day, which is here.

The devil is never happy that we are celebrating Christmas. He prefers we celebrate 'Satanmas." Those who celebrate Christmas embrace good deeds, prayer, charity and worship of God. On the other hand, those who celebrate 'Satanmas' are fond of committing sins such as theft, fornication, adultery, abortion, idolatry, murder, slander, deceit, and other evils during the holy season. Most of the youths in our contemporary society have abandoned Jesus Christ and resorted to idol worship. There is an urgent need to find out their reasons for abandoning Christianity and embracing neo-paganism. Then can we re-evangelize them. We should catch the little children on time before they join the evil trend of neo-paganism as soon as they grow up. The ultimate question is: Do you or I celebrate Christmas or Satanmas? Action speaks louder than words. The taste of the pudding is in the eating.

The surge of Coronavirus pandemic popularly known as Covid-19 is once again on the air because Christmas is here. The 2020 Holy Week and Easter celebrations were sacrificed at the altar of Covid-19. I hope this will not happen during the forthcoming Christmas. It has been muted in government circle that there is move to ban Christmas carols and other yuletide events. As Christmas is here, the powers-that-be also claim that Coronavirus is also here. We must shine our eyes. The forthcoming Christmas celebration must not be sacrificed at the altar of Covid-19, rather it should be vice versa. Jesus Christ is greater than Coronavirus. The Covid-19 protocols should be observed as the case may be while Christmas celebration goes on. Whenever going to church is mentioned, coronavirus is remembered. But during political rallies and campaigns, coronavirus is forgotten. In the market places, Covid-19 is trampled at the expense of money pursuit. Indeed the outbreak of the virus is real. However, it has been politicized and monetized in our country. In the developed countries we see those suffering from the pandemic lying in isolated hospitals. But here we do not see them. The pandemic is promoted verbally and not visually. I pray that the impending vaccination against Covid-19 pandemic is not enshrined in selfish and evil motives. Also I pray that the global pandemic may not see the dawn of the New Year 2021. Please shout, "Amen!!!"

As my pen is running out, I wish to thank God for sparing our lives to celebrate this year's Christmas, which comes up in few days. Many who celebrated Christmas last year are no more alive today. May they continue to celebrate Christmas in Heaven! The year 2020 has been full of ups and downs. May Our Lord Jesus Christ wipe away our tears this Christmas! Insecurity and bad governance are the greatest endemic problems in Nigeria now. May God send his mighty Angels to come and rescue us and pave way for us to celebrate hitch-free and fruitful Christmas! Amen!!!!!!!!!!!