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As I ponder upon our entry into Holy week, the second quarter of 2016 and the feast of Easter, I am drawn to capture the message that Brother Tony gave last year during a similar period of reflection in Advent to prepare us for the feast of Christmas.  The message was titled “Be Alert” and I have highlighted some points herein.

ORIGIN OF CHRISTMAS
Brother Tony started off by reminding us that Christmas is the mass for Christ which is celebrated on the 25th of December each year. He was quick to let us  know that this was not the original date of Christ’s birth and that we should not be confused when our separated brethren chastise us for celebrating Christ’s birthday on a wrong date. He explained that December 25 was a date set aside for the worshiping of the sun god which was the most popular feast of that time.  However, the Church in its wisdom replaced this pagan feast which was very popular and transformed it into a feast day to worship the mighty God who made the sun. This ownership by the Church of this day is the date that has stayed with us to date.
 
ESSENCE OF CHRISTMAS
When Tony started talking about the essence of Christmas, it was difficult to not tune out because we would all profess that we know the reason for the season.  So many messages were being sent that Jesus is the reason for the season and we must put him in the center but do we really reflect on this?  He explained that Christmas is not a buffet and that we are spiritual beings who have been separated from this world.  As such, we must bear in mind 2 things when thinking of Christmas – Christmas as salvation and Christmas as rapture.  The second consideration hit me.  Christmas as rapture?
CHRISTMAS AS SALVATION
He asked us how prepared we were to receive Christ. As in, how prepared SPIRITUALLY are we because it is the spirit that should be prepared and not the flesh. He encouraged us to let the world see Jesus in our eyes during the season and beyond.  As we enter lent, I ask myself whether I have still placed Jesus at the center of my life and whether the world saw Jesus in my eyes during Christmas and whether they see Jesus in my eyes during this season. The Catholic church is awesome. It always finds ways to bring us home using its seasons of reflection and celebration.  He stressed that the presence and awesome power of God FLOWS through our eyes to comfort, to encourage and to heal people and that Jesus must be seen through them.
Brother Tony then told us of a practice that he does every Christmas and on feast days which others would think peculiar.  He celebrates and shows Jesus to people by depriving himself on those days and giving to those who can not afford meals. Self deprivation may actually mean fasting on those days.  Now, I  must admit that I was taken aback.  To fast on Christmas day?  He explained that this was a personal choice and that he also prays with and for them while sharing the meals.  He explained that the joy on their faces in incomparable and wipes away any awareness of your deprivation for their sake. How many of us will do this on Easter day?  How many of us will forsake the Easter buffet and the invitation of others to eat rice and chicken and instead go and seek out the under-privileged under bridges in Lagos or in the slums to share a meal and pray with them? Tough call, huh?  But surely, this is what the season is all about, isn’t it?  This is what feast days are about? The sharing of God’s love?  The bringing forth of God’s kingdom?
Have you ever thought of the reason why some people hate Christmas or Easter?  Brother Tony stressed that Christmas is the season when we give Jesus to others – even those who hate Christmas.  He explained that the reason why people may hate Christmas is because they cannot afford the new clothes and shoes that accompany such feast days nor can they afford the high cost of goods and they are pained at how people spend money they do not have on meals upon which they lavish and waste. Can we not bring Jesus to them this Easter and in turn show them what the feast is all about?
Brother Tony went on to explain that Christmas is a demonstration of Christ’s victory over the powers of darkness by his incarnation. This can be likened to Christ’s similar victory over death at Easter. Chapters 8 and 9 of the gospel of Matthew are filled with the miraculous signs of what was believers are empowered to do through this victory. These powers are not easily obtainable. In fact, the evil one is adamant to keep us so busy and distracted during the build-up to the festive seasons and the actual feast day itself that we lose sight of the fact that we must fast and pray to achieve the powers manifested by believers in the gospel.  He stated that we must deprive ourselves and be alert during the season of Christmas and I stress that this is more so applicable during lent and the Easter period. He warned us that the devil uses the trick of using excitement to lead us into sin which can be seen in the evils of gluttony and drunkenness.
This is indeed true, as it would be difficult to find a table in most families or places without some form of alcohol from 7pm on Holy Thursday.  In short, it always used to amaze me and still does how people start celebrating from Holy Thursday.  The best grooves are actually on Good Friday and the parties continue well into Holy Saturday. Some “Christians” actually manage to drag themselves to church on Easter in a semi-conscious state from all the excitement of the past 3 days. Imagine the tactics of the evil one!  The two most solemn days in the church calendar have the most partying and opportunities to fall into temptation that any other days in the year. I came across a bible verse that even addresses these things upfront and gives us expo on the tactics of the evil one. Luke 21:34-36 says:
“Be on guard, so that your hearts will not be weighted down with dissipation and drunkenenness and the worries of life, and that day will not come on you suddenly like a trap; for it will come upon all those who dwell on the face of the earth.  But keep on the alert at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all the things that are about to take place and to stand before the Son of man. 
May God help us to be aware of the tricks of the devil in Jesus name. Amen
Brother Tony mentioned that Psalm 147:3 explains that Jesus “heals their broken heart and binds up their wounds.”  This mission of Jesus is also summarized in Luke 4:18-19 which states that The Spirit of the Lord is upon me. He has anointed me to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty to the captives and new sight to the blind; to free the oppressed…” This was done by his incarnation which must lie at the heart of Christmas and I add also that this must also lie at the heart of the Easter season  Indeed, how can we celebrate Easter if we ignore those around us and fail to build upon the essence of Christmas.  What would have been the point of God becoming man and dwelling among us if this really is only confined to the brief 33 years of Jesus’ life on earth?
If we are to be alert to these things, Brother Tony stressed that celebration of Christmas must be a deep spiritual thing.  He asked us why it was that most people die in the “ember” months which build up to Christmas? He explained because they lose focus on Christ and focus on the excitement and merriment and how to be well positioned to celebrate the feast.  In this build up to Easter, have we found ourselves doing the same? Are we fixed on Christ, as we enter Holy Week? May God help us not lose sight of Him as we prepare to celebrate this victorious feast day with total spirituality in order to experience His total Will in our lives in Jesus name. Amen.
CHRISTMAS AS RAPTURE
Brother Tony then shared with us a sober thought by warning us to be alert when it came to the occurrences in Nigeria. He said that we should not joke with Nigeria since God is a Nigerian and has a plan for Nigeria. He explained that bitterness cannot take you anywhere and that 2016 and 2017 will be very tough but we must realize that there is a Goshen. This idea of a Goshen in Genesis 46:34-47:1 perplexed me at first as I knew that this was the land in which the Israelites sought refuge from famine, but they remained there for 400 years until Moses led them out to the promised land. Did that mean that we should be prepared to take refuge until we are eventually delivered?  He clarified this by advising that children of God must focus and hold on to Christ because a drought is coming and we must be alert. The level of our spiritual alertness will determine our journey and end destination.
This warning was given in December 2015 and we can see it unfolding. Have we been alert?  Have we held on to Christ? Indeed, it is only by staying plugged into Christ and abiding in Him that we can avoid this drought; this rapture. He encouraged us to use the words in Psalm 91 to  speak life into our situation and warned us against engaging in any negative talk.
Let us all try to be alert as we enter Holy Week and focus on making Jesus visible through us in our actions during this season and beyond. May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight in Jesus name. Amen.

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