For a Child has been Born for Us
Christmas Eve Communion Service
December 24, 2007
Christmas Eve Communion Service
December 24, 2007
Let us pray: Holy God, help me to give voice to the wonderful news: you, yourself are coming to dwell among us! Guide these words and used them. Amen.
A local newspaper in the area where my mother lives decided this year to solicit stories of past memorable Christmases from the readers. I think the plan was to publish the stories in an edition sometime this past week. The request was for stories of no more than six hundred words. My mom excitedly phoned me a few weeks ago to tell me how excited she was. She had decided to respond to the request. She turned eighty-three this year, so there were lots of Christmas celebrations to choose from, but the one she chose to tell about was the Christmas we celebrated in 1967, Canada’s centennial year. Only we weren’t in Canada at the time. 1967 was the year of our second African Christmas - this one celebrated quite remarkably with at least fourteen Canadians who were living in various places - not all close by either - around the Cameroons.
Even if her story didn’t get published - although she dearly hoped it would, the memories evoked by the challenge of remembering the story and writing it down became a gift to her all over again. Of course, Mom couldn’t limit the telling of it to six hundred words, so she edited and re-wrote it many times, each time eliminating some of the detail that it made it so real for her even if that same detail took her over the assigned limit. I guess I’ll find out if the story made it when I talk to her tomorrow.
I have my own memories of that Christmas, and certainly as Mom related the excitement she experienced as she relived that memorable time in our lives, there were details that I had forgotten but were still vivid for her some forty years after they had happened. Mostly I am going to leave my tale of that Christmas to be told some other time - perhaps when I have a chance to read all that my mother wrote and thus evoke my own memories of a special time together. I will only tell you one important detail, and only because it leads to the story I want to tell you, of the other African Christmas - the Christmas of 1966. The important detail of the Christmas of 1967 is that it was celebrated in Yaoundé, Cameroon and not in Nigeria where we were living the year before. We had been forced to leave Nigeria because of a terrible civil war that had been raging there for several months, and which had begun just days after we had left the country the previous summer for a European holiday. All of this is by way of explaining to you that we had hardly any of our stuff. It was all being shipped to us in Yaoundé from the home where we had been living in Ibadan, Nigeria - and by Christmas we still hadn’t received it. In fact, it all arrived on Boxing Day. So, the Christmas of 1967 was celebrated with at least two other families and a makeshift assortment of eating utensils and other items such that Christmas dinner had to be eaten in shifts with dish washing between each shift so that clean dishes could be used by the next group of diners. But it was a wonderful, joyous and happy event - thus proving to us, as if we really needed to know it - that it’s not what you have that counts, but what you make of what you have.
Rewind the memory machine by a year and we find ourselves on a Christmas journey having travelled from our home in Ibadan, Nigeria to the home of my father’s missionary cousin in the country of Dahomey as it was called at the time - now Benin. Cousin Jean was a bible translator living in the little northern Dahomey community of Nikki. She spoke and wrote the Bariba language and used this knowledge in her work of translating scripture so that the local people could understand it. Jean only had a moped for transportation and many of the people who were cared for by the Sudan Interior Mission - the organisation she worked for - lived in far flung villages around the Dahomey countryside. We had a car and so once our Christmas dinner was eaten, cousin Jean made a plan for us to go and meet some of her fellow mission workers in various places and more importantly drop in on some of the villagers that she had come to know in her years in the area and whom she did not get much chance to visit given that her moped was not the kind of vehicle that would reliably take her on the trips required to make such visits.
It was a time of awe and wonder for my twelve year old eyes, ears and nose - and believe me, the senses of all three were put to the test on a regular basis on our little multi-day trip around the West African countryside. And clearly one of the most vivid memories - in fact so clear that I can place myself there again in an instant - is pulling up to a small African village - a few huts made of red laterite mud - the women standing outside their homes with a large pestle and mortar, pounding the cassava into flour for the evening meal. It was clear there wasn’t much to eat for these people. Many of the children showed the extended bellies that were indicative of malnutrition, and yet as we walked up to the village from our car - one of Jean’s friends - probably one of the elders in the community - came out to meet us with a live chicken grasped firmly by the legs in his hand - a gift for us - coming so clearly out of their scarcity.
Such memories are not easy to forget, and why should I want to - for the lesson it taught me was one that I should ever keep before me - and I do. That’s extravagant giving. That’s sacrificial giving. And it was incredibly humbling even to this twelve year old boy.
I could hope that each of us would be able to experience a Christmas like that - not only for the things they teach us - but because it sometimes takes something different to help us understand. One year out of fifty-three for this person, another year out of eighty-three for my mother and yet those two years of African Christmas taught us more about being rich without things than we could ever learn in a lifetime of Christmases back home -as they say. I’ll be home for Christmas is what the song says - and yes there’s a lot to be said for spending the Christmas season with family members and loved ones and steeping in the traditions that are important to us in our lives, but there’s also something to be said for Christmases spent a world away for the things they teach us and for the freshness that comes when every experience is brand new.
Christmas is a time when we celebrate the gift we have been given. God is with us - Emmanuel. For a child has been born for us. God is made manifest in human form. God is ever manifest in human form - if we but tune our perceptions to notice - God is a village elder walking out to greet us with a chicken in his hand. God is a Canadian missionary living simply and humbly among the african people because the word was so important to her that she wanted to bring it to them in their own language. God is a group of Canadian expatriate friends gathering to celebrate Christmas with five plates spoons and bowls and having incredible fun while doing it. God is a child born in the most humble of surroundings - with humble parents and humble shepherds being the first ones there to greet the young babe. How will God be born in you today? Amen.