Christmas has come and gone! We all say goodbye to 2018 as we wish one another a happy and grace filled new year 2019. The reason for all the celebrations is Jesus Christ whose historical birth was prophesied in the Old Testament: “Behold, the virgin will conceive and will give birth to a Son, and you shall call His Name “Emmanuel” “God is with us” (Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:23). The birth of Christ was the time of the census when Quirinius was the Roman governor of Syria. “And it came about in those days that a decree went out from Augustus Caesar to conduct a census of the entire civilized world (Luke 2:1). Jesus was born when political ambition surpassed the blood of the innocent children. “After Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews (Matthew 2:1-2)? The news of another king could have provoked Herod.
God revealed the intention of King Herod. “Now when the wise men departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy Him.” And he rose and took the child and His mother by night and departed to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my Son.” Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah: “A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be comforted, because they are no more” (Matthew 2:13-18).
Jesus was born in a very small village. “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, too small to be numbered among the clans of Judah, from you I will bring forth the One who is to rule over Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, even from the days of eternity (Micah 5:2). King David identified with Bethlehem has his city notwithstanding the minority status. Great people can also come from small villages. Bethlehem means “house of bread” just as Jesus, the true Messiah, is “the Bread of Life” (John 6:32-58). The coming of Jesus was announced to the poor Shepherds (Luke 2:8-20) and the wise men from the East who found the infant Jesus at the manger (Matthew 2: 1-18). Jesus came to give light to a dark world so that the people who were walking in darkness would see a Great Light (Isaiah 9:2).
That Mary is the virgin mother of the Messiah is not in doubt. The Holy Qur’an testifies that the Blessed Virgin Mary did not need a man to give birth to Jesus Christ. The Holy Qur’an beautifully captures the dialogue between Mary and angel Gabriel (Qur’an 19: 20). The respect Islam accord to women is clearly shown in the prominent place the Qur’an gives to the Blessed Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus. The 19th Chapter of the Qur’an is named after Mary (Surat Maryam). To make this year 2019 a year of grace for every Nigerian, the Christians and Muslims must therefore wage war against ignorance. We need education to enable us have a change of attitude and values more than mere change of government which is not even a guarantee for a better Nigeria. The first message to the Prophet of Islam was, “READ” (iqra). Let us liberate our minds through education to deliver our religions from manipulated manipulators.
Given that Jesus is the reason for this season, the Church commend the entire year to God through the motherly intercession of Mary with the celebration of her motherhood on the first day of the year. We request that the mother of Jesus Christ should take our prayers to God who can heal our Land! We pray that the face of God may shine upon us and grant us true peace! Because the Muslims also believe in Jesus Christ and his virgin birth by the Blessed Virgin Mary, Muslims and Christians can transform Nigeria under the umbrella of the Nigeria Inter-Religious Council (NIREC). Given that the NIREC office is situated in the Federal Secretariat, the staff of NIREC could engage the staff of the Federal Secretariat in a way and manner that the Federal Secretariat could be a model of what a nation should be.
At resumption of office as Executive Secretary of NIREC, I visited the Imam in charge of the Mosque and the Police officers in the Police Station at the Federal Secretariat. They all expressed the need to work together to grow a united Nigeria where peace, progress, justice and freedom could be core values. With these experiences and the opportunity, we could take NIREC to the grassroots by visiting the different States with the message of building a nation where everybody would be proud to be called a Nigerian. If the Nigerian government could provide an office space for NIREC in the Federal Secretariat, then NIREC is one of the ways we can discover the capacity in us to search for one nation. This effort will not be in vain if we take seriously the aims and objectives of NIREC without religious and ethnic prejudice.
The Vision and Mission of Jesus Christ who is the reason for this season includes preaching the good news to the poor, proclaiming deliverance to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, to release the oppressed and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour (Luke 4:18-19). If the aims and objectives of NIREC are frankly implemented, Christians and Muslims will among other aims and objectives proclaim the good news of the true value of the human person to the nation. NIREC has the inner capacity to promote all forms of dialogue, ethical values, mutual co-operation, welfare of all citizens, cordial relationship amongst the various religious groups, assist the Governments at all levels and network with organizations of similar aims for the furtherance of the objectives of the Council.
If change in government can take Nigeria to the vision of earthly paradise, by now no politician would promise Nigerians good roads, electricity, portable water, war on corruption, elimination of terrorism and the basic amenities that are taken as normal in a civilized society. Lack of these basic amenities shows that the world is leaving us behind. What other serious nations are doing now is scientific discovery of space and manufacturing of jets that can take off from water. While the world is going nuclear, Nigeria is still talking about electricity and where to import ammunitions forgetting that Nigeria has iron and steel industries that are moribund. The failure of government and governance shows that what we really need now is a change of attitude and values. This is why Christians and Muslims need to be witnesses to the true values of Christianity and Islam. The core value among these values is peace. If this is achieved, the leadership would not need to fight ideological terrorism with the gun. That the military is losing a great number of soldiers should teach us that there is something that the gun cannot kill. The reason for this season is the celebration of Emmanuel, God is with us. With God on our side, there is nothing that would be lacking in our nation. Let us therefore cooperate with God to make life worth living.
Rev. Fr. Cornelius Omonokhua is the Executive Secretary of Nigeria Inter-Religious Council (NIREC) (firstname.lastname@example.org)