In some parts of the world, age is not just a number, it goes beyond numbers. For example, you don’t become an adult just by adding the number of years you have spent here on earth.  You become an adult by working for it. You become an adult by proving that you are worthy of that age; you are worthy of being termed an adult.

There is a story from a village in Africa where a person becomes an adult through a series of initiation rites. When a twelve to fifteen-year-old boy feels he has come of age to become an adult, he enters the preparatory stage of the initiation rites. During the final stage of the rites, the hunters and warriors of the village ceremoniously blindfold and lead the boy into the forest at about 10:00 PM. They leave him in the middle of the forest blindfolded for the rest of the night. The hunters return to the forest in the early hours of the morning to judge if the boy took off the blindfold or not. If they notice that the boy took the blindfold off during the night, he is disqualified from adulthood and will be termed a baby or a little boy for the rest of his life. If the boy observed the rules, the hunters and warriors will then lead him ceremoniously into the village and initiate him into adulthood.

One of those who went through this rite of initiation shared his story a while ago. He talked about how the hunters and warriors took him into the forest and left him there all night. He said, “It was the longest night of my life.” He heard every pin that dropped in the forest. He was tempted many times to take off the blindfold and see what was happening around him, but when he thought about the shame he would face for the rest of his life, he picked his courage and kept his calm. In the morning, the hunters and the warriors came back to the forest, and took off the blindfold and led him back to the village where he was ceremoniously initiated into adulthood.

After the initiation rites, one of the warriors explained to him that he was not alone in the forest, his father, who was also a hunter and a warrior was well armed and sat by him all night.  When he heard that his father was by him all through the night, he regretted how he wasted the night in fear, and anxiety. He said, “I wish someone told me I was not alone; I wish someone told me that night that my dad was sitting by me, I would have slept like a baby. What a wasted night! I wasted the night panicking, unknown to me that my dad was protecting me. What a wasted night!”

My dearly beloved in Christ, the story I just shared was your story. Yes, it was also my story. At the end of our stay here on earth, by the grace of God, when we get to heaven, the scales will be taken off our eyes, and then, the things that are invisible to us now will become visible. Then we will be able to look back and see that at the times we thought we were alone on earth, we were not alone; God was with us. We will discover that the nights we thought we were left alone in darkness, God was with us. Then, we will understand the words of Psalm 139:5 that “Behind and before [God] encircles me and rests [His] hand upon me.” Then we will understand how much time, energy, and other resources we wasted worrying while God was protecting us. Then we will say, “What a wasted life! If only someone told me that I was not alone, I wouldn’t have given in to depression, I wouldn’t have given in to anxiety; I would have made the best of my life on earth.

Then, at that point, God will say to us, “But I told you, but I told you I was with you. I sent my prophets to tell you I was with you. When you did not understand, I went to the extent of sending my Son, Jesus Christ, to become a human being like you, but you refused to be attentive. I even gave him a name when he was born on Christmas Day, I gave him the name Emmanuel, which means, ‘God with us,’ yet, you refused to listen. At the end of his public ministry on earth, before ascending to heaven, he said to you, ‘I will be with you until the end of time,’ yet, you did not listen. But I told you!” My dearly beloved in Christ, today we celebrate Christmas, the solemnity that reminds us that we are not alone, that God is with us, that God has gone to the extent of sending His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, to become one like us. He was born like us. He grew up in a family like us. He experienced the good things and the difficult things of this life. There is no situation we find ourselves that is strange to him. Even when he did not sin like us, he took our guilt upon himself.  He is with us. Let us not wait until we get to heaven, to look back and regret all the time and resources we wasted in fears, worries, and anxieties. We must not wait to get to heaven before we realize how close God was to us on earth. Christmas has settled the matter: God is with us. The question still remains: Are we with God?

Rev. Fr. Emmanuel Ochigbo

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