Monday, 25 December 2017

Christmas and the Question of Christian Identity by Bishop Ezeokafor


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2017 Christmas Message of His Lordship Most Rev. Paulinus C. Ezeokafor, to the Family of God in Awka Diocese

Dear People of God,

May Grace and Peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.
The commemoration of the birthday of Jesus is here once again. We have awaited this moment with great expectations and with hearts full of joy and hope, because it is the celebration of the birth of the Son of God, our Lord and saviour, who has changed history forever. It is a time for prayer, peace, love; a time for charity, sharing, and worship of the new-born Child, who is the greatest gift of God to humanity. We can only thank God with our whole heart, soul, and mind, and with a way of live pleasing to Him, so that this wonderful gift will ennoble us in ways unimaginable.

*Christ, the Fullest Revelation of God*
     At Christmas, Christians all over the world re-enact the salvific event of the definitive entry into human history in the human form of the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity. With this blessed “interruption” of our “everydayness,” God made Himself known in the highest possible manner, such that it becomes the fullest manifestation to us of who God really is and who we are. In the Incarnation event, God can no longer be said to be veiled to humanity. His identity as God of incomparable humility, infinite goodness, mercy, and compassionate love forces itself on us.
In the incarnate Christ, God made Himself accessible to us within our limited mode of cognition, vision, and experience. To have seen Him is to have seen the Father (Jn 14: 9). Through his life and ministry, He made known to us everything He learnt from His Father (Jn 15:15), for no one knows the Father except the Son or whom the Son wishes to reveal Him (Mtt 11:27).
Our Blessed Mother Mary's perfect submission to the will of God at annunciation provided the model of undiluted submission of human will to that of God and its limitless possibilities. For Christ to be born in our hearts and families, and for Him to reveal Himself more to us in our lives, we must look at Mary's leading example. The Liturgy of Christmas brings this to light.

*Christian Identity Is Anchored on Jesus*
In his letter to the Philippians, St. Paul brought out the amazing kenotic significance of the Incarnation. He praised the self-emptying of God manifested in His taking of the human flesh, the form of a servant (Phil. 2:6). The world had never known or thought about this singular identification with the lowly exemplified in the Incarnation. When the time came for His birth, no place was found for her mother Mary but the manger, from which animals were fed, such that at His birth, He was not only surrounded by His parents, but also by the animals. What else do we need to understand His love for us? It was not also accidental that the modest people who tended the animals, the shepherds, were the first to receive the cheering news of this glorious birth.
In His manger experience, Jesus showed the world the extent he can go to identify with humanity's weaknesses. It was an experience of deprivation and suffering, which was later to punctuate His life, reaching its highest point in His death on the cross. In other words, from cradle to His death and resurrection, Jesus poured Himself out in perfect humility and love.
The season of Christmas, when we commemorate this saving humility of Jesus, should be a time we manifest our identity to the full as Jesus' followers. It should be a time we should be known for what and who we are. Just as Jesus identified with the weakness of the fallen humanity, so also should we identify with the weakness of others, reach out to help them and open ourselves up to be helped too.
We must relive the manger experience in our lives. We must be seen to identify with the weakest members of the society and let go of our egocentricism and bloated image of the self in order to serve God in the poor. Christmas should be a time those whom the world relegates to the margins of the society receive our inclusive embrace and lovely welcome. We must learn to give ourselves, our talents and gifts, our ideas and possessions for the good of others. Only then could we be proud to say we are real Christians.
*Concluding*, I must reiterate that Christmas is a great opportunity for Christians to reflect on the great mystery of God made manifest through the birth of Jesus. Like Jesus, we must learn to empty ourselves of our excessive attention to self, arrogance, lack to concern for the weak and work together as one family. With this, our families will become centres of love, our communities places for solidarity, and our nation a home where no one will feel cheated out or short-changed.
I humbly impart my Christmas blessings on all and pray that this season becomes one of wonderful reunions and forging of bonds of solidarity among ourselves.
Merry Christmas and prosperous New Year 2018.

Given at St. Patrick's Cathedral, Awka, Friday, 8 December, 2017, Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Paulinus C. Ezeokafor
Bishop of Awka

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