Few years ago, I was walking with two of my colleagues from Cameroun along a busy street in Germany. The three of us were cracking jokes and laughing in high tones as if this world is a bed of roses. A middle-aged German man was coming from the opposite direction. He stopped abruptly before us and was admiring us. After few minutes he shook his head sideways and asserted to our hearing, “Africans, you are happy!” The three of us shook friendly hands with him as we responded, “Danke schoen!” (Thank you). Even though we were struggling tooth and nail in doing our Theological License in German language, yet we were happy in a foreign land. Is it really true that Nigerians are the happiest people in the whole world?
Some time ago I narrated how a German priest friend visited me and my colleague in the Lord’s vineyard here in Nigeria. After taking him around, we escorted him to Enugu airport on his way back. I asked him his experience here in Nigeria. He smiled and said, “Nigerians are suffering but happy.” We were highly elated. I moved closer to my colleague and whispered into his ear, “The Germans are living very comfortably but are unhappy.” The two of us burst out laughing. Our German friend was confused at our extraordinary laughter. He asked, “What is amusing both of you?” The two of us in unison cheerfully replied, “That is the practical demonstration of our happiness in the midst of suffering.” We burst into laughter again. He joined us in laughing. But the difference was clear. He was laughing artificially from the nose while the two of us were laughing naturally from the mouth. At last he departed happily and we went home rejoicing.
A certain man’s wife and two children died in a ghastly motor accident. The man himself was the driver but he miraculously survived the fatal accident. However, he was unconscious from the accident scene. He regained consciousness after three days’ of admission in the hospital. Then he asked about his wife and two children. The sad news was broken to him that his wife and his two children died at the accident spot. He wept bitterly and wished he died with them. For him life was useless. Nonetheless as a man, after hearing words of consolation from different sympathizers who visited him, he was somehow courageous. However, he continued to sigh from time to time.
On the morning of the next day, his junior brother came into his room as he was looking aimlessly at the ceiling and greeted him, “Good morning. How are you?” The childless widower retorted, “What is good about this morning? Please mind yourself. I am not good at all. I am angry with God and everybody.” He started weeping. His brother held him passionately and said, “My brother, take it easy. The Bible said that we should always give glory to God, whether good or bad. What happened was really painful. Nevertheless, we should rejoice each day we wake up from sleep. Life belongs to God.” His bereaved brother shouted, “Enough of that nonsensical preaching! Get out of my room and allow me to mourn.” His brother left quietly.
In the morning of the second day, the same junior brother came into his bereaved brother’s room again as he was brushing his teeth and greeted, “Bad morning. I know you are not good at all. Take this rope and hang yourself. When you get to the world beyond, slap God for the sudden death of your wife and two children.” The bereaved man looked pitifully at his junior brother and smiled gently. He tearfully said, “Who am I to hang myself and to slap God for the sudden death of my wife and children? God forbid?” For the first time his face brightened. Then he asserted, “I have retracted my vulgar words. Despite my deep sorrow, I give glory to God for everything.” He put a Gospel music with the title ‘Rejoice in the Lord at all times’. He and his junior brother took to the floor. Afterwards he buried his wife and two children gloriously. Later God prospered him in various ways. After one year, he remarried and was blessed with five successful children. He began to rejoice more than he mourned.
Now let me drive my point home. In this third Sunday of Advent, liturgically known as ‘Gaudete’ Sunday, the Church is urging us to rejoice because our salvation is nearer. Our Saviour Jesus Christ is close at hand. He is coming to save us from our spiritual and material bondages. Hence it calls for rejoicing. ‘Gaudete’ is a Latin word which means ‘to rejoice’. We are rejoicing that the Word Incarnate is coming to dwell among us in order to salvage us from the old bondage of sin and also make the Kingdom of God visible on earth. Christmas means ‘God is with us’ (Emmanuel). Hence, glory to God in the highest and on earth peace among men (women included) who are God’s friends!
Those who bear the name Emmanuel or Immanuela must be very careful and to avoid insulting that holy Name. Recently a bloody kidnapper was caught somewhere as he was about to collect a huge ransom in Ghana-must-go bag. When he was asked his name, he said, “My name is Emmanuel ThankGod.” One of the policemen who caught him asked him, “Do you know the meaning of Emmanuel and ThankGod?” He replied, “Yes, Emmanuel means God is with us.” The policeman asked him, “Is God with you in this bloody crime?” He responded, “Yes, I fast and pray before embarking on any kidnapping business. And when I succeed in collecting millions of ransom, I thank God for hearing my prayer.” On hearing this, the police officer gave him three dirty slaps for insulting the name of God. He was thrown behind the bars. Later he was charged to court and was found guilty of kidnapping, robbery and murder. Thus he was sentenced to death by hanging.
How can we rejoice today that our country Nigeria is in distress? Our elections witness violence, vote buying, ballot snatching and all forms of rigging. We waste billions of money to conduct kangaroo elections. The alleged winners are often not the people’s choice. They ascend to power through foul means. Instead of becoming democrats they turn into tyrants at the state and national levels. The 2019 presidential election was not free and fair. The recent Bayelsa and Kogi states gubernatorial elections witnessed so much violence and vote buying. Many innocent people were killed just to gain power. Should we rejoice when the alleged winners ascended to throne through bloody and foul means?
Should we rejoice when the Nigerian Judiciary, which is the last hope of the common man, has been compromised? Justice is often swept under the carpet due to power or the influence of the incumbent? How can the Chief Justice of a Nation be removed unjustly in broad daylight without outcry from the quarters concerned?
Are we rejoicing when the country is governed by the system of divide and rule, nepotism, marginalization, blood-letting, etc? Corruption has indeed eaten deep into the fabric of our Nation. The end is not in sight. We are living in the atmosphere of terrorism, kidnapping, menace of Fulani herdsmen, anger, hunger, unemployment, bad governance, injustice and so on. How can we derive joy in the midst of these anomalies?
Our country Nigeria needs serious prayers. But prayer cannot work in a vacuum. God helps those who help themselves. All Nigerians, including our leaders, must come to our senses like the prodigal son and correct our ungodly attitudes. We should stop at the cross-roads, make sober reflection and then take the road that leads to progress. All hope is not lost. In the midst of all the aforementioned problems in our country, we should not despair. The Almighty God is greater than any problem. Some day and sometime God will intervene in his own ways and bring us to the Promised Land after many wasted years and wasted lives post-Independence of 1960. Let us celebrate this year’s Christmas with joy and greater hope as we march into the special year 2020. The figure 2020 denotes wellbeing. Rejoice! Rejoice!! Rejoice!!! In God we trust!
By Fr. Pat Amobi Chukwuma
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