2016 Christmas and 2017 New Year Message, of His Lordship Most Rev. Paulinus C. Ezeokafor, to the Family of God in Awka Diocese
My Dear People of God,
May grace and peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.
We are once more in the joyous season of Christmas. The world cannot give us this joy; the only begotten Son of God is the only one that can offer us that. It is a joy that radiates from within, in commemoration of the birth of God; a child who is the King of all the earthly kings and the Lord of all lords; a child who is the Alpha and the Omega, the initiator and the finisher of our existence. To him be all honour, adoration, thanksgiving, and praise forever and ever. Amen.
I have chosen to reflect with you on one of the great mysteries that this season invites us to focus on – Christ as the light of the world, a light that enlightens the gentiles and gives glory to his people Israel (Lk 2:32).
PROPHECY OF THE LIGHT OF SALVATION FULFILLED IN JESUS CHRIST
Since the Original Sin of our First parents Adam and Eve, the world had longed for the day the light of salvation would break through the heavens and lead people back to God fully. For centuries, people had been seeking to organize the unredeemed humanity without this light. As years passed by, it became obvious that, without the help of God, the unredeemed humanity was heading for destruction and death. That was why the prophets continued to raise the hope of the people of Israel towards the appearance of this Great Light. Many devout Jews longed to be alive when this light would shatter the darkness of evil, oppression, and injustice that they suffered.
The Prophet Isaiah's prophecy proclaimed the Messiah as the light of the nations, beheld by the people that previously walked in the dark; a light that had shone upon those who dwelt in the shadow of death (Is 9:2). Isaiah's words pointed irresistibly to Christmas, the birth of the unconquerable light, Jesus Christ. They pointed to the interruption of human history by a definite entrance of God into it. This was precisely what happened that Christmas night in Bethlehem. The Scripture tells us that John the Baptist, who himself was not the light, “came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone” (Jn 1:8). This light is the word that “was made flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, the glory of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (Jn 1:14). In the person of Jesus Christ, therefore, was the prophecy of old fulfilled.
Simeon was one of those who waited in prayer and worship at the Temple in Jerusalem for the day this light would shine forth and brake the shackles of darkness enveloping the world. When the child Jesus was born and brought to the Temple by Joseph and Mary, Simeon was filled with joy that at last his eyes had beheld the long expected light of salvation that would bring light to the nations and glory to Israel. He clasped him in his hands and gave glory to God. Having beheld the light, the old pious man, who had earlier received a revelation from the Holy Spirit that he would not see death until he set his eyes on the Lord's Messiah, the King of kings, became eager to welcome death and rest in the peace of the Lord (Lk 2: 25-32).
ORIGIN OF 25 DECEMBER FOR CHRISTMAS: CENTRALITY OF LIGHT SYMBOLISM
The two major theories regarding the origin of the celebration of Christmas on 25 December point to the significance of light, especially the Sun.
The first theory holds that 25 December was chosen by early Christians for the celebration of Christmas in order to displace the pagan celebration of the feast of unconquered sun god (Natale Solis Invicti), which occurred on the same day. This was to show the pagans that it was Christ, not the pagan idols, who was the true light of the world; that he was the one brought forth on that day, not the pagan god. This was approximately the time of the year when the Winter Solstice happens, with the sun being directly overhead at noon in the Southern Hemisphere, on the Tropic of Capricorn (usually 21 December).
The second theory, the computation theory, calculates the birth of Jesus Christ from June 25, generally taken as the birthday of John the Baptist. This was the time of the year when the sun is directly overhead at noon in the northern hemisphere, on the Tropic of Cancer (Summer Solstice, usually June 21). Since in Luke's gospel (Lk 1:26-38), Jesus was born 6 months after John the Baptist's birth, Jesus' birth would fall on 25 December (Winter Solstice). In both cases, the sun is the central point of reference. In a sense then, light is indispensable for proper understanding of Christmas. It is the birth of divine light into the world.
CELEBRATING CHRIST AS THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD: IMPLICATIONS FOR CHRISTIANS
From the earliest times, Christians have always proclaimed Christ as the light. From third century AD, we have always professed Christ in the Creed we recite at Mass as “Light from Light, true God from true God.” The Gospel acclamation of the Mass on the Christmas day has it that “today a great light has shone down upon the earth.” In the Feast of Epiphany, which is, so to speak, the climax of the Christmas season that ends at the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, the Gospel reading contains the story of a great light in the sky – the guiding star – that led the three wise men to Bethlehem to pay their homage to the new-born child Jesus. On the New Year day, the Responsorial Psalm of the Mass (Ps. 67:1) implores God that his face sheds its light upon his people.
As we celebrate Christ as the light of the nations, we, as Christians, should be the bearers of this light, in order to bring God's salvation to the ends of the earth. Darkness symbolizes evil, sin, void, emptiness, loneliness, ignorance, etc. Christ the light comes to overcome all these. Light powerfully symbolizes knowledge, hope, love, goodness, etc. People who love to perpetrate crime under the cover of darkness do not like the brightness brought by light, because it exposes their evil ways. By affirming Christ as the light, Christians affirm their hope in him as the only one to deliver them from the darkness of error, unbelief, sin, and ignorance and bring them into freedom of the spirit, to live a life of grace.
The light we receive at Baptism must be allowed to shine forth in our lives. Let us allow this light to penetrate the hidden recesses of our lives. It is only then that it can influence our lives and make others around us better. Christ tells us to let our light shine before people, so that seeing our good works, they may give glory to our Father in heaven (Mtt 5:16). In our respective homes, neighbourhood, and communities, people must see us as the people of light.
During this season of Christmas, people adorn their homes with different forms of light. Our Churches are decorated with lights. The government of Anambra State has also decorated our streets with lights, especially at strategic locations. The State is truly “the light of the nation.” We must treasure this and let it influence our lives. The decorations help to bring out the powerful symbolism of light that we celebrate at Christmas. However, if we end at these external decorations, without inner conviction and transformation, we have missed the most important aspect of the Christmas celebration.
No doubt, we are all experiencing the biting effects of the economic hardship in the country, such that many families find it difficult to join in the festive mood of Christmas. It touches me in a special way. Nevertheless, this light must come, for both economic prosperity and for our souls. In this situation, we need to remember the worst hit in the society and help them to share in the joys of Christmas. May we bring the light of Christ to the oppressed, the orphans, the incarcerated, the homeless, the sick, the helpless widows, and the poor of our society, because our Christmas celebration will not be complete if we neglect them. May our identification with them at this period launch us successfully into the New Year 2017, so that it becomes for us a grace-filled year of prosperity, progress, and peace.
I conclude this reflection by inviting all of us to allow ourselves to be touched by the light of Christ, so that our witness to the faith will be strong and unflinching.
Wishing you a merry Christmas, a promising and successful New Year 2017.
+Paulinus C. Ezeokafor
Bishop of Awka
Given at Awka, on 8 December 2016, Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary.