By Andrew Keili

Christmas is not a time nor a season
but a state of mind.
To cherish peace and goodwill, to be plenteous in mercy,
Is to have the real spirit of Christmas.

Calvin Coolidge
It has been another tumultuous year, marked by intense national division. The last two months have seen frantic activities that not only indicate the extent of our division but also the fact that our society is getting more and more depraved. These have been a long time in the making and transcend several governments. Towards the end of the year, activities at the Commission of Inquiry, alleged human rights abuses, hiring and firing of personnel from MDAs and several other happenings indicate the extent of our division. On the societal front, rape has become much too commonplace and the rape of minors indicates the extent to which depravation rules in the land. There are rays of bright hopes in the skyline like the passing of the sexual offences, Hands Off our Girls campaign headed by the First lady and other laudable initiatives.
News on the economic front has not been that good. Whilst trying to improve on economic performance the government claims it is still beset with problems it inherited. Whatever the case, the high cost of living is a cause for concern. Many of our social ills are still with us and will continue to be for a long time.
This may be a season of goodwill but the period preceding this has been anything but. There is no doubt that politics has dominated the year, perhaps understandably. Social media has worsened the political divide situation. Fake news, the preponderance of self -styled social media audio commentators and trigger-happy android phone photographers abound. Most of these have done irreparable damage to unwitting victims. On the positive side social media has also unearthed many a devilish plan to defraud the state. Meanwhile, whatever the cause of our current hardship, public opinion is that things are difficult and this period before Christmas has been especially difficult for people. With money in short supply and prices rocketing for basic goods, the enthusiasm generated for the yuletide period appears to have evaporated.
Move over negative news! This is a season of goodwill! Let us for a time put aside the negative news and remember that Christmas is supposed to be joyful, triumphant, adoring, praises, glory, peace. The overwhelming message of Christmas is triumphant and joyful. The carols are very upbeat about Christmas and sadly somewhat unrealistic. But is this a true reflection of what really took place that first Christmas? We know from carols like ‘Away in a manger,’ which pretends that Jesus never cried. Sometimes we get a little less than the whole truth.
Let us try and think about some of the other words which we could use to describe how people would have felt at the first Christmas
1. How did Mary feel when she was told that she was going to have a baby? (Terrified, lonely)
2. How did Joseph feel when he was told that his betrothed was to have baby? (Betrayed)
3. How did they both feel when they were told that there was no room at the inn? (Disappointed, depressed, poor, no choices)
4. How did Herod feel? (Angry)
5. How did the parents feel of the children in Bethlehem that were killed? (Grieving)
6. How did Mary and Joseph feel when they heard Herod was after Jesus? (Afraid)
The message of the real Christmas is not that everything is great. There is nothing magical about having a baby out of wedlock, not getting a room in which to give birth, being away from home, fleeing to Egypt.
This is helpful because we know that this is real life. For so many people Christmas is not a happy time, for some people it is positively the worst time of the year.
1. For some people Christmas is desperately lonely, what has Christmas got to say to them?
2. Some people are incredibly poor, what does Christmas say to them?
Fortunately the message of the real Christmas is that in the midst of the difficult circumstances of life there is real hope. God is not blind to our circumstances, Jesus is born as the light of the world, that shines in the darkness.
Notwithstanding all our problems, we should as Sierra Leoneans find strength in our differences, and celebrate everything we have in common. And we should do our part to take care of each other, and make life better for the people around us. That’s what Christmas in Sierra Leone should be. For us as Sierra Leoneans, whatever our circumstances this Christmas, peace in our country should be our watchword. “Peace on earth” is a phrase you see everywhere around Christmas time. For many of us, we have to wonder where that peace is. Whether we’re trying to find peace in the chaos of our own lives or trying to wrap our heads around hope for political peace, “peace on earth” sure seems elusive. A quick glance around will remind us that we live in a far from perfect country. In our own lives, we struggle to find peace with ourselves
Older Pessimists will say that Christmas was better several decades ago. Christmas was a time of gaiety with masked devils, lanterns, carol singing-the whole works. It didn’t matter where you were, everybody enjoyed Christmas even if they did not understand what it meant. I recall our Church choir moving round the houses in Kissy town area in Bo. We went to an old woman’s home and started singing “the first Noel”. The Lady asked in Mende, “Moisia gbei?”, meaning “Boys, what is the matter?”. “We cam sing carol ma”. We replied. She answered back- “Camsincaro gbua ha a gendawa”, meaning “ Camsincaro went out very early this morning”. She obviously did not understand what it was all about and must have had someone in her house with a strange name which came close! Anyway we beat a quick retreat and went to find easier prey.
Notwithstanding our present day circumstances we should still long for a better Sierra Leone and we should learn to love ourselves. Have you ever considered looking to see what Jesus Christ says as a solution for peace?
He taught people to love each other as they love themselves (not a self-serving kind of love, but a self-respect kind of love). He taught people to love their enemies. Imagine if every single person, group, culture in Sierra Leone learned to love each other and their enemies; there truly would be peace in this country. Not only did He teach people how to be at peace with each other, Jesus Himself served to make peace between people and God
Why can we not meet in the Christmas spirit? Optimism, love, and faith in the right outworking will prevail. Evoking the meaning of Christmas at any time of the year can be the ”good news of a great joy” that we can always receive under any circumstance. Perhaps we feel vibrations of love, peace, and cheer during the holiday season more than at any other time of the year. People in general are more considerate, polite, and kind. Most people smile more readily; hurts and past offenses are forgotten. And this is as it should be, for after all, we are celebrating the birthday of the Prince of Peace.
We can now bring that same spirit of goodwill and understanding to our relations all year long. Why allow those feelings and attributes to grow cold as the new year unfolds.
But will we continue with this spirit of goodwill? Challenges will arise during the coming year. We will wait till after Christmas and begin the political infighting. We will continue with the political bickering over social media. The sceptic would say political violence may continue during bye elections or that finger pointing, discrimination, harassment and political bickering will continue.
This does not however need to be this way. We should as Sierra Leoneans face our challenges headlong, no matter what our status in life, tribal or regional affiliation, gender of any distinguishing feature.
Whatever challenge you face. Whatever assignment you have been given. Whatever obstacles you must overcome. Whatever problem you have. Whatever relationship is broken. Whatever dream God has given you. Whatever hope you have. Whatever your inadequacies. Whatever ….all things are possible with God.
We are always looking for biblical ways to present the Christmas story with freshness and power. One way to do so is to remind ourselves about how normal people like ourselves were drafted into the greatest story ever told.
The Christmas story shows us that God does things differently. You might even call His way sneaky. We all know the story of Christmas: the baby, the barn, the shepherds and magi. Hidden inside that familiar story is the surprising revelation that God’s way is to ignore the big shots and use nobodies instead. Just count the nobodies:
Mary was a teenage girl from a small town. In Bible times, women were not important people, and teenagers were even lower on the scale. Mix in her premarital pregnancy, and you’ve got a real nobody on your hands. Mary was God’s choice. She conceived the baby Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit. God considered her somebody important and gave her a pretty tough assignment!
Joseph was a nobody, too. He was just a working man. He was faced with a choice between trusting God and protecting his small-town reputation. But reputations belong to important people, and most of the important people were in Jerusalem. Joseph said yes to shame, yes to love and yes to God, so God chose Joseph to act as a foster-father to the Savior of the world.
Shepherds are not important people, just the opposite Back in that day, watching sheep was not exactly a rock-star profession. Yet they were the first guests invited to the celebration; they saw the skies ripped open and heard the song of heaven. In just one winter night, these social misfits witnessed more of God’s glory than all the priests in Jerusalem.
Meanwhile, whilst we ponder these thoughts, let us remember that this is a season of goodwill. May peace reign in Sierra Leone.
Merry Christmas. Ponder my thoughts.

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