Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Christmas is here again. I may not know how you celebrate it in your clime, but I pray that wherever you are, the love of God may dwell richly in your home.
As a little boy growing up in southeast Nigeria, I remember vividly how we longed for Christmas. We accompanied our parents to the shops to buy new clothes and shoes. Some of us made sure we added to our acquisition plastic spectacles and colourful plastic wristwatches that were permanently fixed at half-past 1twelve or a quarter to six. Who cared if they didn’t tell the time? On Christmas Day, we marched triumphantly to church in our new regalia, greeted by the sound of the church organ and the accordion. Christmas lunch was usually rice, stew, chicken or lamb, and Fanta to drink. After that, our parents permitted us to visit friends and neighbours. Everybody was so kind and friendly. Wherever we went, we were given pennies or candies and more rice and soda. In the evening, we went out to the streets to watch the drummers and the acrobatic dancers. There were also wild masquerades with people looking like demons and begging for pennies. Everyone was, of course, celebrating the birth of Christ!
Many years later, when I lived in South Korea, I woke up on my first Christmas morning to see the ground covered with snow. It was such a beautiful sight to behold, but when I opened the window, I shivered as the winter air bit my face. How could anyone enjoy Christmas in this cold? Dressed in layers of clothing, I accompanied my friends to the Halleluyah Church in Seoul. We sang lovely carols in the Korean language, and later there was plenty of delicious rice and kimchi and bulgogi and half a dozen side dishes. My Korean friends asked me if we celebrated Christmas in Africa. Some wondered how we could enjoy Christmas without snow. I smiled. How will they ever know that I had been wondering how anyone could enjoy Christmas in winter (without the dances in the streets)? Nevertheless, in the end, we all had a wonderful time. The warmth was the same – the fellowship, friendship, and excitement were all there. The lesson I learnt was that the magic of Christmas was not about snowmen or evil-looking masquerades. It was all about the love of God for all mankind – love followed up by action.
We must be careful not to reduce Christmas to just another social event in the calendar. It is a mystery … and we are stewards of mysteries (1 Cor. 4:1). What would we do if we were asked to inhabit the body of an ant for a week? We would certainly cringe at the thought. But our God condescended even lower than that. He came to this earth and inhabited a human body for thirty-three years! By means of a special heart-breaking technology, the Holy Spirit caused Christ to shrink into a seed and planted him in the womb of a woman. And he did this for mankind to inherit immortality! In spite of this sacrifice, many have not yet received him. Even among Christians, many celebrate Christmas without Christ. Our children are growing up to know about Christmas lights, Christmas trees, Christmas cards, Christmas cakes, and even Rudolph the reindeer. Many forget the word “Christ” embedded in Christ-mas! Many forget that Christ is the reason for the season.
As we celebrate Christmas, let Christian scholars all over the world be diligent about teaching their children and neighbours the significance of Christmas. It is instructive that scholars were the first group of professionals to welcome Jesus to the world. These were professors in the field of astrology, fondly called “wise men from the East.” They were diligent enough to follow a star all the way to Bethlehem. And when they saw little baby Jesus, they demonstrated their love and offered gifts. Moreover, they submitted their authority to him and worshipped him. By doing so, they were “casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5).
The story of the birth of Christ is not only the story of how God loved the world, but also the story of how mankind received God. Whereas the wise men brought gifts and worshipped Jesus, Herod instructed soldiers to kill him. Whereas the Pharisees looked for ways to disprove him, one of them, Nicodemus, sought an opportunity to learn from him. How are we prepared to host him? Mary hosted Jesus in her womb and remained blessed forever. Peter hosted Jesus in his boat and received a higher professional calling. Zacchaeus hosted Jesus in his house and was transformed, giving back to society all he owed. Today, is the Society of Christian Scholars prepared to host Jesus in our universities? To do, so we must first host him deep in our spirits, minds, and bodies. We can only do so if we truly love him.
Jesus asked Peter, “Do you love me?” For me, this is the central question of Christmas. Wherever we are, let us pause and ask ourselves the question: do we love Jesus? If we love him, then let us breathe into our souls the immortal words that followed: “Feed my sheep!” My prayer is that the Society of Christian Scholars should not be a mere social club, or just another academic platform. I pray that the Society may be a movement of scholars who truly love God – scholars who are ready to feed the sheep in the classrooms and in the corridors of the university.
On behalf of the executive committee of the Society of Christian Scholars, I wish you all a Merry Christmas and the peace of God!