(Being a Christmas Message by Rev. Fr Victor Ibiyemi of Ondo Diocese at Ss Peter and Paul Major Seminary, Bodija, Ibadan on 10 December)
It is so good to be back in a short while! I sincerely want to thank you fathers for such great recognition and invitation to be here today! It has not happened in recent times to a very young/old priest like me. Thank you for the work you are doing in the seminary and may God continue to empower you to do even more than you think you are capable of doing. I want to excellently thank the students too for keeping up, maintaining and even doing better in these beautiful traditions and foundations we met and left here. You need to be praised because it is harder to maintain success than to achieve it. That is why Edmond Mbiaka says: “As important as it is to possess the will power to become successful, it is even more important to have the drive to maintain it after you achieve it.” You must remember that what keeps you successful is your dodged will. About that Vince Lombardi, an American Coach said: “the difference between a successful person and others is not a lack of strength, not a lack of knowledge, but rather a lack of will.” Finally, I want to welcome and greet our ever supportive congregation, you have always been here, some have been here before I got into the seminary and many more have joined today to be blessed in this spiritual assembly. you have not just come to listen to the beautiful renditions and to watch the seminarians and other choirs display their prowess and ingenuity, you have come to be blessed. Because this is a liturgical assembly, it is a spiritual reality and so as it is, it is a moment of encounter, a moment of glorification and sanctification. Therefore, we will not leave here empty-handed, we will leave here renewed and revived to be more committed to our Christian calling and to live graceful lives.
Exactly 10 years ago, precisely this same time and same occasion in 2007, we acted a sung drama scripted and composed by now Rev. Fr. Emmanuel Asogwa of Nsukka Diocese titled - May Christ be born in our Hearts. The summary of this drama is the emptiness, meaninglessness and frivolities we celebrate at Christmas. The vices, iniquities and evils we engage in under the pretext of Christmas. Ten years after that thought provoking drama, things have gone worse! We continue to steal because of Christmas, we get drunk and many die in the spirit of Christmas, different celebrations of immoralities come with Christmas - the poplar Biggest Street Carnival festival registration is already on and many will travel far and wide to see displays of unclad ladies, looking fiercely fetish with horrible paintings and costumes, also stripped us advertising immoralities in the name of macho-displays, many become fresh prostitutes at this season of Christmas, many abort innocent children at Christmas/January, many become extra stingy and tight-fisted at this Christmas, many more become more suspicious of the evil intents of others at Christmas, many families end up divorced in January, many other families engage in both physical and spiritual wars at Christmas, others celebrate Christmas in sorrows and distress because of the remembrance of their poverty in the face of others’ wasteful extravagance, deceptive political mantras and schemes crop up at Christmas, many others see Christmas as the annual holiday for exploitation, hoarding and corruption at different levels (in the market, stores and so on). After all these displays at Christmas, those who make it to January the next year become as poor and wretched because all their savings have been consumed at the Christmas Holiday. At the end of the day, we remain as unchristian as we were, as materialistic as ever and our vicious cycle of worldliness continues in the New Year. What kind of Christmas do we celebrate then?
As true Christians who understand what we are, we must continue to ask ourselves that challenging question that has become so difficult to answer in the face of these fascinating frivolities, enticing atrocities and compelling trivialities – What and who do we celebrate at Christmas?
Benedict XVI, the Emeritus Pope tells us what we celebrate at Christmas, he says in third Volume of his Book Jesus of Nazareth, at Christmas we commemorate and celebrate the mystery of the Incarnation. What is the Incarnation? And the Word became flesh, the Church calls the Incarnation the fact that the Son of God assumed a human nature in order to accomplish our salvation in it. This coming in the flesh, the most wonderful and sublime unity of Divinity and Humanity is what we commemorate at Christmas. We celebrate Jesus who is the Word that became flesh. This Incarnation of God in Jesus is therefore not simply a transfer of information, but must be a deep and personal encounter between the divine and human-between us and God. It therefore involves an existential, self-loving knowing and experiencing of Jesus. But then… what happened at the Incarnation? St. Anthanasius of Alexandria answers: “For at the Incarnation, the Lord touched all parts of creation, freed and undeceived them from all deceit. Unfortunately, many of us are still living in various deceptions and many of us are living lies. The greatest of those deceptions is the way e celebrate our materialistic Christmas. How then must we be freed from this deception and celebrate Christ at Christmas? To answer this, we must ask the last question? Why did God come in the flesh? There are four reasons: a) The Word became flesh for us in order to save us by reconciling us with God. (1 John 4: 10) b) The Word became flesh so that we might know God’s love (John 3: 16) c) The Word became flesh to be our model of holiness (Matthew 11: 29), John 14: 6), d) The Word became flesh to make us “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4). St Thomas Aquinas summarises that when we wrote that: “The only begotten Son of God, wanting to make us sharers in his divinity, assumed our nature, so that he, made man, might make men gods.”
Based on these four reasons why the Word became flesh, we must begin to celebrate Christmas in a new dimension. Christmas too must also be four things to us: 1) It must be a season of sincere thanksgiving for all God has achieved in the History of Salvation as we have read in the readings and will continue to read 2). It must be a season for healing, reconciliation and hope 3). It must be a season of renewed Holiness and spirituality.4) It must be a season of great joy and genuine demonstration of Love.
Christmas is meaningless and fruitless without exuding genuine love. Love as Christ taught us. Love beyond boundaries. Love beyond gifts. Love beyond records. Love beyond gains. Love beyond words, love beyond colours, love beyond hate. This kind of love we lack in Nigeria, this kind of love we need more than ever in Nigeria, in our families, in our churches, in our offices, in the seminary, in our lives. Finally, we must remember that every Christmas must be an anticipation of the Second Coming of Christ. At this Christmas and hence forth, May Christ be born in our hearts, our families and our Land! Amen! Merry Christmas and a prosperous New Year in Advance, God bless you!