THERE are many important festive seasons and vacation periods every year especially among the Christians around the globe. Each season celebrated has its origin, purpose, value and meaning attached to it. This again defines the pace of such celebration, hence the glamour and tempo of each celebration varies from place to place and from person to person.
For the Christians and those with Christian background, the month of December remains very special. First, for the non-Christians it marks the end of the year that creates a new hope and expectation for a new year to come. But for the Christians, the reason moves beyond this.
The December month remains special and calls for special and adequate spiritual preparation both physically and spiritually. The physical deals with the material needed for the celebration such as buying food, clothes and Christmas trees, lights, gifts and cards for friends and relatives.
The spiritual preparation deals with making our hearts ready for the coming of Christ through repentance and reconciliation. This will enable us to welcome Christ into our hearts and homes with joy. The spiritual aspect remains the most important. This is the message of John the Baptist who prepared the way for the Messiah (Matt 3:2-3).
For the Christians, especially the Catholics, the spiritual preparation begins with Advent, which lasts for four weeks. Advent means before the coming of Jesus Christ. Advent becomes a season that helps the Christians to prepare for the two fold inter-connected realities namely, the birth of Jesus Christ and his second coming in glory.
Advent becomes a season for sober reflection, meditation, prayer and reconciliation. It is a season of hope and expectation. Unfortunately, today the spiritual preparation is overshadowed by the material due to over commercialisation of the event and the season.
Through adverts many companies and supermarkets create the desire to buy things during the Christmas season. This perhaps explains why the Christmas means different things to different people.
Why some see it as an opportunity to make more money, to others it is a time of stress for poor families who have to struggle to meet the demand of their children expecting special gifts. To others, it is a time of joy, hope, consolation, solidarity, reunion and sharing.
The questions then are: What is Christmas? What is the biblical foundation of the celebration? How can we celebrate it properly? And finally how is Christmas celebrated in many parts of Nigeria?
Christmas has its foundation in the biblical narratives of the nativity of Christ, especially in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke which focused on the story of the conception and birth of Jesus in a poor stable in Bethlehem and how the glory of the newly born child was revealed to the three wise men known as the Magi or Shepherds and their subsequent visit to the Saviour to pay their homage guided by the star (Matt 1:18-22; Luke 1:1-14, 26-36).
The Gospel narratives of the birth of Jesus becomes the fulfilment of the various prophesies made concerning a virgin that will give birth to a child who will save the world (Isaish 7:14; 9:6).
It is the birth of Jesus Christ whose mission is to save the world that Christians celebrate every Christmas from December 24 to January 6 (Epiphany). The meaning of Christmas and its value therefore is not in the gifts received or given, but it lies in the fact that God has fulfilled his promise to save his Children.
In doing this, the Word became Flesh (Jn 1:14) so as to identify himself with the humans and be part of human history and struggle through humility and obedience to the plan of God the Father (Phil 2:6-8). This is clearly revealed in the name given to the Child by the Angel Immanuel (Matt 1: 23-24) which means the Lord is with us.
In line with the Old Testament, the child (Jesus Christ) will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace (Micah 5:2). It is through the incarnation of Christ that God truly reconciled the humans with himself (2 Cor 5: 18-20) This is the whole essence of the death of Christ on the Cross.
Christmas gives us the hope that we are not left alone. It shows the immensity of God’s love (Jn 3:16-17; 1Jn 4:10). As a good shepherd, Jesus will guide and protect us.
The ministry of healing and teaching of Jesus Christ in the Gospel and the post resurrection experiences of the early Christian community in the Acts of the Apostles rekindles yearly why his birth must and should be celebrated with joy.