Posted by: zebbook | December 24, 2011

Chickens In Bethlehem (?)

                                             Chickens In Bethlehem (?)

           It’s that time of the year again when, worldwide, a floodgate of joy and happiness seem to burst open and doves of celebrations and merriment perch on every house. Nigerians, purportedly the happiest people on earth, like a surface that got struck by a photon of electromagnetic radiation, begin to emit merriment in quanta. Ever ready to party and celebrate, even when the economic and security conditions in the country dictates against such, or at least for such celebrations to be carried out with all modesty and decorum, Nigerians capitalize on the excuse of this period being “festive” to throw caution, and common sense, to the wind by spending extravagantly beyond their incomes and even credit limit.

          Omo ti o ku o failii (He who still has life hasn’t really failed) is the slogan for the period. The year may not have turned out to be as we had hoped it would at its beginning, we may not have achieved 10% of what we set out to achieve in the year, but it’s time to forget all the negatives, or at least pretend to, and focus on the positives. And what greater positive could be there than the fact that we are still alive, even if we are living not better than slaves. In fact, our mentality supports taking loans and buying things on credit, if it’s all meant for celebrations purposes, emi to je gbese ni yi o san (A soul in debt is half-secured).

          Christmas, however is a different kind of celebration, it is the king of kings of celebrations, and must be observed as such, not in any wishy-washy manner. Top on the list of the essential ingredients for a proper Christmas celebration is the acquisition of new clothes; it is sacrilegious to celebrate Christmas in old clothes. It signifies that we are not grateful enough to God for sparing our lives till this moment; again it doesn’t matter if the clothes were gotten on credit and the tailor hasn’t been paid. Second is the very important issue of Christmas chicken. You are not regarded as poor if for every single day of the year you eat your foods without any fish or meat, but if you celebrate Christmas without killing a chicken, then it becomes official that you are poor. If need be, you should save since the first month of the year towards this cause, so you do not bring shame and disgrace upon your family by not bringing out your own chicken to kill as everybody else on the morning of Christmas.

          It is this association of chicken with Christmas, in Nigeria, that made me delve into history to see when and where the tradition of Christmas chicken started. I had to reread the Gospels, focusing on the accounts of the birth of Christ and the associated events, to check if perhaps Mary and Joseph entertained guests with chicken at Christ’s naming ceremony. Surprisingly, or unsurprisingly, there was not a single mention of chicken in all the accounts I read. There were no chickens in Bethlehem! So I had to consult other history books to follow how the tradition of Christmas has changed since 2000 years ago, to see just when the chickens came into play.

          The word ‘Christmas’ is a combination of two different words from two different languages. ‘Christ’ is an English word which has its roots in the Hebrew word ‘māšhīă’ meaning Messiah, Saviour, Deliverer, Liberator. ‘mas’ is a shortened form of the English word ‘mass’ which has its roots in the Latin word ‘missa’ meaning celebration, commemoration,  remembrance, observance. As such, CHRISTmas, is actually a celebration of the person of the Messiah, His Life, His Purpose and not just His birth. This way, the question of whether Jesus was really born on the 25th of December becomes irrelevant. Christmas is much more than about the birthday of Jesus, it is a remembrance of His sacrifice to become flesh and dwell amongst us; something which, if you ask me, is what we should do every day. Every day, indeed, should be Christmas!

          Conversely, when we write ‘CHRISTmas’ as ‘Xmas’, in the name of word contraction, we create an entirely different word with an altogether different meaning. ‘X’ is an English alphabet; the equivalent of the Greek alphabet ‘chi’, which on its own has no meaning whatsoever. ‘mas’ retains its meaning as ‘celebration’ from the root Latin word. Thus, our new word ‘Xmas’ means the celebration of X, of nothing, of nothingness, of vanity, of emptiness, and of meaninglessness. In retrospect, we not only write ‘Christmas’ as ‘Xmas’, we celebrate ‘Xmas’, not ‘Christmas’, going by the activities that characterize our celebrations.

          I have come to realize that so much attention is usually focused on the birth of Christ at this period. Messages revolve around the humility of Christ, the chastity of Mary, the obedience of Joseph, the cruelty of Herod, the generosity of the wise men, the faithfulness of the shepherds etc. we focus on these lessons at Christmas because we have identified Christmas to be just about the birth of the Messiah. While this is not wrong, it limits the scope of what Christmas is all about, and hence the lessons we should learn, perhaps lessons more important than the ones already mentioned. Christmas is about the celebration of the LIFE and the PURPOSE of the Messiah, not just His birth, and perhaps, if it won’t make me sound like a broken record, the greatest lesson to learn at this period is that of purpose, purposeful living and destiny fulfillment.

         Yes Christ was born, and so we should celebrate, but why was He born? Why would God send His only Son to live among men? Of course we all know the answer, we are good Christians. God, out of His love for us, sent Jesus into the world so that He may die for our sins and reconcile us back to Him. Jesus came into the world for a reason, Jesus knew His purpose, and set to work on it as early as possible and in the end He fulfilled all that the Father would have Him do. That is why His birth, His Life and even His death and resurrection are worth celebrating, everything was for a purpose; the ultimate purpose! So what is your own purpose? Why are you here?

        Purpose is the way the Bible describes that we need to live our lives, with intent, with objectives because too often it becomes a meaningless drift to nowhere. Purpose is intention. Distractions divide your attention. So if you have too many distractions, your attention is divided and prevents you from accomplishing Gods intentions. Purpose denotes the intended “aim or goal” that God has for each individual’s life. Perhaps you are a rather nihilistic person who doesn’t believe you have a purpose and that life has no meaning. It doesn’t matter. Not believing you have a purpose won’t erase the fact that you have one, just as a lack of belief in gravity won’t prevent you from tripping. American President Ronald Reagan put it this way: “I know in my heart that man is good. That what is right will always eventually triumph. And there’s purpose and worth to each and every life”.

         “What is the essence of my life?” is a question you should answer for yourself before someone else gives you the answer, albeit most likely the wrong one. And it may not even be a single person giving you the answer. Most likely it’s a collection of many sources, employers, coworkers, friends, family, social pressures, etc. Each contributes a small piece to your answer. But because there are so many contributors, the answer that comes out is fuzzy and complicated. So you end up living a fuzzy, complicated life crafted by third-party biographers, some of whom have not even answered that question for themselves.

         It’s fair to say that if you don’t know your purpose in life, you won’t be spending much time working on it. So what will you end up doing with your time instead?

Three things:

1) Working on your needs.

2) Working on other people’s needs.

3) Working on other people’s purposes.

          If you don’t know your purpose, the limit of the work you do for yourself will be stuck at the level of need, which at best has the potential to grow into greed. You’ll crave for money just for the sake of attaining the status of the rich. Barack Obama and Wayne Dyer had an insight into this purposeless wealth phenomenon when the former said: ”Focusing your life solely on making a buck shows a poverty of ambition. It asks too little of yourself. And it will leave you unfulfilled” and the latter said “When I chased after money, I never had enough. When I got my life on purpose and focused on giving of myself and everything that arrived into my life, then I was prosperous.” The man without purpose who devotes his strength and energy to amassing wealth for himself may be counted lucky when compared with his counterpart whose strength is being used to make a fortune for another man. More often than not this second man finds himself in the employment of the first man, a man without purpose working like a slave to make money for another who doesn’t know his purpose, nor that of the wealth. This sad trend is especially common in Africa, where even governments qualify as the purposeless rich and the civil servants on repulsive salaries their slaves.

         An old saying goes thus: “If the purpose of a thing is not known, its abuse is inevitable”. So also when you as a person do not know your own purpose, you become a ‘thing’, an ordinary tool in the hands of others, and your abuse becomes inevitable. If you don’t know your own purpose, others will put you to good use achieving theirs, exploiting, manipulating, mishandling, misusing and maltreating you in the process. In the words of Henry David Thoreau “It is not enough to be busy; so are the ants. The question is: what are we busy about?” Indeed according to Friedrich Nietzsche “To forget one’s purpose is the commonest form of stupidity”, but maybe, just maybe, not knowing it at all is even worse, for he who forgets may be granted recovery of memory, but what recovery of memory shall we grant to he who doesn’t even know at all?

         When Jesus was born, the wise men announced His birth to Herod as that of a king that has come to reign in Israel at that time, they announced Him as an heir to the throne of Herod, they were trying to re-define His purpose for him, from that of an everlasting king upon the whole earth to that of an ephemeral earthly king of Israel, from that of the saviour and Messiah of the whole world to that of a warrior that has come to deliver the Jews from the oppressions of the Romans. But on the that fateful Sabbath in the synagogue, He rose up and announced His purpose without mincing words, not minding how it would make the people feel.

            Luke 4: 16 – 21 “He went to Nazareth, where He had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day He went into the synagogue, as was His custom. And He stood up to read. The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to Him. Unrolling it, He found the place where it was written: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and the recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour’. Then He rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on Him, and He began by saying to them ‘Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.’” He had a clear vision of what He was on earth to do, no wonder He spent much time in the synagogue teaching, and on the streets healing, and when they tried to make Him a king over them He ran!

           When you find your own unique answer to the question of why you are here, you will feel it resonate with you deeply. The words will seem to have a special energy to you, and you will feel that energy whenever you read them. Discovering your purpose is the easy part, relatively. The hard part is keeping it with you on a daily basis and working on yourself to the point where you become that purpose. Og Mandino said: “I am here for a purpose and that purpose is to grow into a mountain, not to shrink to a grain of sand. Henceforth will I apply ALL my efforts to become the highest mountain of all and I will strain my potential until it cries for mercy”. Your own purpose, unlike Og, may not be to grow into a mountain, literarily, the point is that you should determine, like Og, to apply ALL your efforts to become that which you know is your purpose and strain your potential till it cries for mercy.

          It was written of Christ in Luke 4: 42 – 44 that: “At daybreak Jesus went out to a solitary place. The people were looking for Him and they came to where He was, they tried to keep Him from leaving them. But He said, ‘I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent’. And He kept on preaching in the synagogues of Judea”. This happened in Capernaum where Jesus was so received by the people even demons testified of His status as the Son of God. He could have decided to stay there in this comfort-zone, keep teaching them and performing miracles, but He understood the fact that He had been given a global purpose, and you can’t fulfill a global purpose sitting down in your comfort-zone. He let his strength respond to His purpose, not vice versa, putting purpose in the driving seat to exploit His abilities, physical and spiritual, to the maximum. George Bernard Shaw put it in a way I personally identify with when he said: “This is the true joy of life, the being used up for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap heap; the being a force of nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.” WOW!!!

           Clement W. Stone said: “Definiteness of purpose is the starting point of all achievements”, when you discover your purpose, you stop doing things because others are doing them; you do things because you really have to do them. Likewise, you stop not doing things because others are not doing them, you do not do things because you really do not have to do them. Peter F. Drucker  said: “There is nothing so useless as doing effectively that which should not be done at all” while Henry David Thoreau put it thus: “Many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing it is not fish they are after”. Life takes an entirely different dimension; your view of what constitutes success becomes aligned in the direction of your vision. You start finding joy in the smile that your efforts put on the faces of those around you, not your bank account, and the words of William E. Gladstone holds sway for you when he said: “Never forget that the purpose for which a man lives is the improvement of the man himself, so that he may go out of this world having, in his great sphere or is small one, done some little good for his fellow creatures and labored a little to diminish the sin and sorrow that are in the world”.

          When you discover your purpose, it will guide every of your actions towards its fulfillment. Everything you are, know and possess will begin to respond to that purpose, even your Facebook account! Purpose will define your finances: how you spend money; what you spend money on; the causes you donate to, if you do at all; which one is more expensive: your wardrobe or your library; etc. Purpose will define your relationships: who you move with; who you listen to; what attracts people to you; etc. Purpose will define your education: what you read; why you learn; where you seek knowledge; how teachable you are; etc. Purpose will define your time management; whether you spend half a day watching movies or reading the biography of a great man you admire. Purpose will define your passion: “Tell me what you pay attention to and I will tell you who you are” Jose Ortega y Gasset. Purpose will define your needs: what you do really need, not your wants which, according to economists, are unlimited. Purpose will define your desires: what you want to do; what you chose to do. Purpose will define your abilities: what you can do, what you do with ease and motivation.

           I once came across a man who said his purpose is: “to live consciously and courageously, to resonate with love and compassion, to awaken the great spirit within others, and to leave this world in peace”. To live consciously (awareness, required for conscious personal growth), and courageously (courage, a virtue required to pursue conscious growth), to resonate with love (unconditional love, which isn’t an emotion but rather a sense of connectedness with everything that exists, implying that working on my own growth and helping others to grow are compatible), to awaken the great spirits within others (to help others lock in at a higher level of consciousness/awareness, which will give them the means/courage/discipline to pursue personal growth consciously), and to leave this world in peace (to do no harm, to work to improve life instead  of destroy it, to leave a legacy, no regrets, knowing I did my best and could have expected no more of myself, refusing to die with my music still in me, an irreproachable inner peace). So I thought to myself ‘I would love to live my life like that also!’

          So my journey through history to Bethlehem to know why we use chickens for Christmas ends here. I found no chickens in Bethlehem, or maybe I did. Chicken doesn’t just mean a fowl or the meat from a fowl, chicken stands for every man and woman wandering through life without purpose, aimlessly, living their lives to the satisfaction of the needs of other men, without focus, without emphasis, no tenacity, no drive, no passion, no resolve, no commitment, no dedication, no devotion, an abject and miserable poverty of the spirit and mind. There were chickens in Bethlehem, and there are yet many more in our days, much more than the ones that will grace our plates tomorrow.

         Tomorrow, I’ll adorn my new regalia; march off to church, dance like there’s no tomorrow, go home, eat rice and chicken till I belch and it will be yet another Christmas well spent for me. On Monday I’ll wake up to another Christmas, I’ll celebrate the Messiah, and remember that He came into this world and fulfilled His purpose, so I will gather myself and set myself to task as the words of Thomas Kempis echo in my ears: “Life without a purpose is a languid, drifting thing; every day we ought to review our purpose, saying to ourselves, ‘This day let me make a sound beginning, for what we have hitherto done is naught.’ “ And you my friends, and mentors, will I wish not just a merry Christmas, but a purposeful one as well. Till I am able to lay my hands on any other history book with new information, I don’t know why we use chickens for Christmas, not that it’s a bad thing though.

“I have one life and one chance to make it count for something…I’m free to choose what that something is, and the something I’ve chosen is my faith. Now, my faith goes beyond theology and religion and requires considerable work and effort. My faith demands –  this is not optional – my faith demands that I do whatever I can, wherever I am, whenever I can, for as long as I can with whatever I have to try to make a difference.” Jimmy Carter

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Responses

  1. This is a great piece that tells us the link between Christ the messiah, Christmas and purpose.

    Just as the writer said, birthdays not only celebrate birth but the entire life of the celebrant. When I celebrate my birthday, I not only celebrate that tiny baby brought forth in blood but I celebrate the whole of my existence. Funny, how we celebrate only the birth of Christ on his birthday instead of his life and purpose!

    Thanks for taking us through the journey of seeing the purpose of this season.


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