Have you noticed that under certain circumstances it is necessary to be a Christian? Many people may not go to church all year but on Christmas day we feel the need to do so. We might not have gone to church for five years, but when we want to get married we feel it is necessary to do so in a church. We may not have been going to church at all but now that we have a baby, we need a pastor to officiate at the naming ceremony and baptise the baby.
The church has become a commercial concern. When we have just bought a car, built a house or started a business, it is time to look for a pastor to bless it. When we have a naming ceremony, wedding or burial, it is time to rent a church to conduct the proceedings. For the price of a hefty offering, churches are open for business.
Christmas is no longer about the birth of Christ. Jesus warns that the thief has come to steal, kill and destroy. (John 10:10). Make no mistake about it, he has already stolen Christmas.
Many of the things now associated with Christmas have nothing to do with Jesus Christ or with Christianity. Indeed, there is no mention of the celebration of Christmas in the book of Acts. The Christmas tree is a remnant of old Teutonic nature worship. The giving of presents is a Roman and not a Christian practice. Santa Claus or Father Christmas is more occultist than scriptural. He is more in keeping with the witches and wizards of the books of J.K. Rowling than with the word of God. The God of the bible is definitely not a Father Christmas.
Christmas is now about glittering street and home decorations; giving and receiving presents; getting a new set of clothes; shooting bangers and fireworks; and sitting down to a sumptuous meal at lavish family dinner parties. It is the time when we go to church in our latest designer clothes and when we go back home to the village to declare a surplus and make a big impression.
It means if we don’t have any money, Christmas is a time of glum and gloom. At Christmastime, we are now forced to take stock of our financial situation and determine our life by what we have made in the preceding twelve months. This is contrary to the doctrine of Christ who says: “A man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” (Luke 12:15). If we are short of cash, Christmas becomes a dry season which brings few tidings of comfort and joy.
But in the beginning it was not so. In the beginning, Christmas was celebrated in a manger and not in a palace. The sign the angels gave for identifying the Messiah was not silks and satin, but swaddling clothes. Mary and Joseph were so poor; they could not even afford a lamb for the sacrifice on behalf of their new child, according to the Law of Moses. (Leviticus 12:8). Therefore, they had to make do with turtledoves and pigeons. (Luke 2:24).
At the first Christmas, the shepherds brought no gifts. There is actually no biblical record of three kings of the Orient. The bible does not say there were only three wise men; neither does it say they were kings. When they came from the east to Jerusalem, they did not come at Christmas. They came some two years after Jesus was born. (Matthew 2:16). The bible confirms that Jesus was then a young child and not a baby. (Matthew 2:11). Neither did they come bearing gifts for Mary and Joseph; they only brought gifts for the young Jesus.
The message of the birth of Christ was first brought to lowly shepherds, sleeping out of doors. The angel said to them: “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:10-11). However, Christmas is no longer good news for all people. It is now essentially good news for the rich.
Christmas is now a time of high commerce. It is the time to spend and spend, and also to sell and sell. Printers make brisk business selling greeting cards. Toy-makers have a field day. Others make a fortune selling Christmas lights and decorations. If our house is not lit up, we feel left out.
Clothes sellers raise their prices. Tailors smile all the way to the bank. Rice, turkeys and chickens flood the market. Mountains of flour disappear in ovens as we bake and consume cakes and puddings. Musicians release new songs, eager to capitalise on the lucrative Christmas market.
Policemen mount roadblocks to collect offerings. Kidnappers collect tithes. Armed robbers collect first-fruits. Booze is consumed to drunkenness. Illicit sexual dalliances gather pace. Road accidents reach new peak. The season is crowned with human sacrifices in pagan shrines. Where exactly is Christ now in all this?
I was once stopped at a check-point around Christmas-time in Lagos. The policeman was pleased to find a video camera in my boot. “Where,” he asked, “is the receipt for this? How do I know it is not stolen?”
I stood there by the roadside not knowing exactly what to do. The policeman left to confer with his colleagues. After a while, another policeman came to see me. “Why are you wasting so much time?” he demanded. “I am sure you know what you have to do.”
“What do I have to do?” I asked sheepishly. The man was blunt and to the point. “You have to give us some money,” he said. “I’m afraid I cannot do that,” I replied. “Why not?” asked the policeman, somewhat taken aback. “You see,” I appealed to him, “I happen to be a Christian.”
The policeman burst out laughing. “My oga must hear this,” he said; hurrying away. Soon, the man who had earlier interrogated me returned. “What did you say to the officer?” he asked, frowning. “Please sir, don’t be offended,” I pleaded. “I told him I am a Christian, so I cannot pay any bribe.” “I am a Christian too,” said the officer unabashedly. “What has that got to do with it?”
Christians are now a motley group of very strange bedfellows. We are those who go to church on Sundays but also beat our wives on Mondays. We are those who go to prayer-meetings but also go to cult meetings. Today, virtually anybody can claim to be a Christian, and all of us celebrate Christmas.
But who exactly is a Christian when liars, cheats, fornicators, armed robbers and “pen-robbers” all claim to be Christians? What happens when extortionists “hark the herald angels sing;” adulterers come with “all ye faithful,” and fraudsters proclaim the “tidings of comfort and joy?”
Jesus warns: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 7:21).