This is the full text of Bishop Matthew Kukah’s Christmas message. Those with ears, let them listen.
Our Hope Does Not Disappoint Us (Rom 5:5)
Christmas Message by Matthew Hassan KUKAH, Bishop of Sokoto Diocese
A Fractured World: Amidst so much pain, injury, war and death, what can we say today about Christmas and its message of Joy and Peace to a fractured world? Everywhere we turn, blood is being spilled in the name of God and Religion. There are no more grey areas. We believers all seem to be at a total loss as to how to explain the clouds of doubts that hover over our horizon.
Last year, I issued an Easter Message titled, Do not let our enemies ask, where is your God? We might be tempted to say things are worse today. However, as Christians, we are men and women of Hope and we know God is on His throne. 2: Struggle for Power: Today, the path to peace is still littered with so much debris of human pain.
The excesses of Boko Haram still haunt the landscape. The Chibok girls are still not found and we will still spend another Christmas without any hope that their laughter will soon return to our homes. The engine of political change has still not gathered the steam we had hoped for. The political calendar continues to shift as we witness a domino effect of overturned elections across the States.
All in all, new anxieties, new battles for power among the elites will likely lead us to loss of more innocent lives and blood. The contest for power continues to take its toll and yet we continue to pray for the stability of the ship of state. We call on our leaders to use the power in their hands for service.
Has Religion Failed Us? Amidst so much pain, injury, war and death, what can we say today about Religion? Some people think that Religion has failed and others claim that Religion is to be blamed for the woes of the world. Neither of these positions is correct.
However, we believers cannot turn our eyes from the fact that we must take a substantial part of the blame for where Religion finds itself in our society. What has gone wrong? For us as Christians, what has become of the messages of Jesus Christ, Our Lord and our Saviour?
Where is the Laughter, the Joy, the Peace that was promised in the words of the different Christmas carols we all continue to sing year in and year out? Where is the light that Jesus brought and entrusted to us to drive darkness from the world?
Today, more than ever, we Christians must rise up and take full responsibility for what we have done or not done in our societies. When we Catholics confess our sins during the celebration of the Holy Mass, we accept and plead with God to forgive us our sins for; what we have done and also what we have failed to do. Often the sins of omission can be as serious as the ones we commit by actions.
Let us not be bystanders. We must all commit ourselves to doing some good today. This is why Pope Francis has asked Christians to wake up the world.
Blame Government but take responsibility: We have learnt to blame the government for everything as an excuse for our own sins of omission. True, we have not been the luckiest people in the world with the quality of leadership we have had. But that is not an excuse.
How for example is a government responsible for men whose irresponsible lifestyles lead to their children being sick or out of school? How is government responsible for men who decide to marry and bring children into the world when they have no means of bringing them up? How is government responsible for domestic violence?
How is government responsible for the collapse of family values? How is government responsible for students who decide to cheat in their examinations? How is government responsible for men who choose armed robbery rather than hard work? How is government responsible for women who decide to choose a life of prostitution?
Government can and must create conditions, but we must all become instruments of change. If we take our responsibilities seriously, we can compel government to serve us better.
Christians, Show the Way and Be like Christ: Like the Greeks who approached Philip, the world is saying to Christians, We want to see Jesus (Jn.12: 21). However, increasingly, many of us have shielded Jesus by our arrogance, blind quest for power and worship of new but false gods.
I am reminded of a poor man who kept coming to Church on Sunday but each time the warders would not let him in because he oozed some odour and looked unkempt. The warders feared that his presence could offend some of the big shots in the Church or dirty their clothes.
The poor man got fed up with trying and, sitting in his shack by the roadside one Sunday, he cried to Jesus: Lord, I heard your message and have tried to enter the Church to worship you, but the people in the Church will not let me in. Please, forgive me but kindly accept my prayers and worship here on the streets where I am since I cannot enter the Church and this is my home.
Jesus whispered to him: Sorry, my son, my fate is not different from yours. Even I too have tried to enter their Church, but they have refused to le me in!
Religion is not for Profit: The word of God and its living blessings are free. Isaiah said that much when he said: Come all of you who are thirsty, come to the water and you who have no money, come and eat. Buy wine and milk without money and without cost (Is 55:1). St Paul reminded us: What is my profit? It is this: that in preaching the word I might offer it free of charge (1 Cor. 9:18).
This is what led Jesus to express His only visible show of anger and violence when he whipped the moneychangers and accused them of; turning His Father’s house into a den of thieves (Matt. 21:13).There were times that the Catholic Church was guilty of this abuse known as Simony.
It was one of the reasons for Fr Martin Luther’s revolt. But, so much has changed now. Prayer for our people is the duty of all ordained ministers, but today, it has become subject to abuse. The embarrassing billions being committed to spiritual matters is an act of outright criminality and nothing to do with the Christian faith. This is one of the damning betrayals of Jesus Christ.
The Political Economy of Christmas: As the years have rolled by, Christmas has tended to lose its moral compass. This is a danger and a threat that we must address. The Chinese who do not believe in God have made the most out of Christmas by focusing on its economic value. There is nothing wrong with this in principle. However, in reality, we must return to the spirit of what we are really celebrating.
Jesus gave us a model in the circumstances of His own birth and life on earth.He was born into the most absolute expression of poverty, in a dirty and smelling stable with animals. In real life, the Lord of Heaven and earth had no place to lay His head (Mt 8: 20, Lk. 9:58). He ate His last supper in a borrowed home (Lk 22; 7ff). He rode to Jerusalem on a borrowed donkey (Mt. 21:3, Lk. 19:31, Mk. 11:3). In death, He was buried in a borrowed tomb (Mt. 27:57).
In the light of all this, it is difficult to understand how we have come to equate success, prosperity and blessings of God with wealth. Had riches been the essence of the mission of Jesus, He would have handed His ministry to bankers and economists such as Matthew or even Judas. Had healing been of the greatest importance, perhaps, Luke would have been the head of the Apostles. Rather, he chose Peter who doubted and was rather fickle minded. When He asked them to take the Gospel to all the ends of the earth, He stripped them of all forms of insurance. He warned them against relying on prosperity by enjoining them to carry no money, no belt, no sandals (Lk. 10:4). Money is very good but it must not become an idol for us. Thus, Jesus warned that we cannot worship God and mammon (Mt. 6:2)
Called to be Witnesses of Jesus Christ: At the end of His life, Jesus asked us to become His Witnesses. This is the most important point in our Christian life. Witnessing is doing, acting, and behaving like Christ did. This is not easy especially in a fraudulent world like ours. Yet, as St. Paul says, to confront these realities, we must be in the world but not of the world (Rom. 12:2).
Our life must be a constant struggle for higher goals. Jesus did not ask us to become famous healers, wonder workers, miracle hawkers, fortunetellers, money doublers, stargazers, or prayer warriors for the rich and the powerful. As Christians and leaders, our thunderous prophetic voices should warn of the fact that the mighty could be cast down from their thrones and the lowly exalted (Lk. 1:52). It is this true witnessing that enabled the non-Christians of Antioch to call the followers of Jesus, Christians (Acts 11:26).
This Hope does not Disappoint Us: These are trying times for our country and they have always been. Just when we seem to be climbing out of the pit, something pulls us back. The tragic incident in Zaria is an antithesis of Christmas because Christmas should be about the celebration of life not death. The only Change that is urgently needed now is a clearly defined agenda for genuine reconciliation among our people. We do not have any other options. In hope we must turn the corner and take the highway. This hope does not disappoint us. God heal our country and merry Christmas to us all.