Happy New Year from ScholarLeaders! As we enter 2020, Samuel Nwokoro from Nigeria encourages us to reflect on how God may be meeting us anew in the old, old story of Jesus and his love.
Nicknamed the “Giant of Africa,” Nigeria has the largest population (representing over 250 ethnic groups) and economy on the continent. Approximately half of Nigeria’s 201 million people are Christians living in the south, while Muslims in the north comprise the other half. About 10% of Nigerians also practice indigenous (mostly Igbo and Yoruba) religions.
Sam is pursuing a PhD in Islamic Studies at the University of Edinburgh (UK). His research focuses on interfaith encounters between Christians and Muslims in the eighth century, the impact of these encounters on social and religious identities, and the implications for interreligious dialogue today. Prior to his studies, Sam served as a lecturer at the Theological College of Northern Nigeria in Bukuru and ministered at the Anglican Diocese of Jos.
Sam shares the following devotional and prayer requests:
Pondering Christmas Anew
Music, food, and new clothes made me enjoy Christmas as a kid: the magic of singing tunes typical of the season, the joy of eating with my extended family, and the opportunity to own new trousers or shoes or shirts. These things made Christmas unique for me as a lad. It was always the case that I would find Christmas too short. By December 26, things would return to normal, and that was a bit sad.
As I grew older, I searched for the deeper meanings of Christmas. But what I found meaningful about Christmas at one stage of my life would not always suffice for the next. It seems to me that, as we grow and experience life in many ways, Christmas grows with us. We do not leave it behind. It shows up every year. It meets us at different points in our lives and we ponder its meaning anew.
This Christmas, I have been reflecting on whether my humanity is in conflict with the divine. To put it as the well-respected theologian Rowan Williams once did: “Is God at war with our humanity?”
This could be a heart rate-accelerating question for those who are not always sure if their humanity sits well with God. It often feels like there is a fight between what makes us human and what makes us Christians. This feeling can be backed by everything from biblical passages on self-denial to common notions of religion as restraining and narrow.
In the biblical story of Christmas, however, God enters into human flesh. He comes as a helpless baby, he depends on others to grow, he shows love and kindness to those around him, he speaks for what is just and true, and then he dies the death of one who is willing to lose everything for what he believes in. In the story of the baby Jesus, our human nature is affirmed and upheld by the divine will. In the story of the birth of an infant Savior lies the hope of compassion, love, and human flourishing. In the story of the baby Christ lies the beginning of an end – of a life that would cease in order that others might live.
From this perspective, it seems like Christmas is best spent in doing things that would align with true human flourishing, which Christ inspires and enables: protecting all vulnerable children around us and in conflict-ridden areas, reaching out to someone with whom I may disagree or whom I find uninviting, and working hard to conserve a planet that could sustain many more generations after we are long gone.
What is your story? Where has Christmas met you this year and how would you contemplate the story of the infant Christ, in whom God comes in the closest of encounters with mankind?
As a second-year PhD research student at the University of Edinburgh, I study early interfaith encounters. This involves learning about early medieval Middle Eastern city spaces, and how their capitulation or conquest impacted social and religious identities during the eighth century. In your prayers, please ask that I would: (a) gain deeper insights into my research subject, (b) exercise diligence in analyzing source texts, (c) extract with patience the most accurate results, and (d) develop an enduring piece of scholarly contribution to my field of study and future academic calling in Nigeria and elsewhere.