“Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home” (Matthew 1:20)
I really looked forward to my first Christmas in Kenya. I thought this was gonna’ be so different. It was different from the start – even the precursor signals that let us know Christmas is coming were very different. Certainly the slum in which I lived was devoid of any of the commercial excess. There were no malls, no black Friday, none of the things we just accept as part of our background and routine. Occasionally, you could hear Christmas carols, traditional and tribal, float out of one of the dwellings or tin sheds that passed for stores. As for my traditional Christmas expectations about the season or weather were different – the days were growing a little longer and warmer – such is life below the Equator.
People were getting ready to welcome Jesus into their homes. I don’t think there was a home which did not have a nativity scene all prepared – some store bought, most hand made. Each family had its own tradition of what figures were added as Advent moved along. All simply awaiting the figure of the Christ child. The other thing that stood out for me was the addition to the routine greeting. To the normal “Good day” habari zako, was added, “Uje Bwana Jesu; uje kwa haraka” – “Come Lord Jesus; come quickly.” The signs and symbols of Advent were the same and were different – all told of the coming of Christmas.
On Christmas Eve I was invited to the home of one of the families in the Small Christian Community of my local neighborhood – most of the community was also present. It was a wonderful evening – lots of people, lots of singing and storytelling, and lots of food – simple but plentiful. All the women of the community performed their traditional Christmas Eve song with dance. What I found so wonderful about it was that it came right from the context of their lives. The song, accompanied by traditional dance, was the same song the women of the village performed when a child was born in the village. It was a song whose words were ones of greeting for the child, blessing for the mother, thanksgiving to God for such blessings, and a promise from the community to this child that there would always be a place in their home for them.
There was, however, one awkward moment of the evening. One of the sons was home. He was on scholarship to Nairobi University and …. well, he was very impressed with himself. He was holding forth on the lingering effects and corruption of British colonialism on traditional Kenyan values. This night the particular target of his insight and learning was the family Christmas tree. It was a “Charlie Brown”-like tree about 2 feet high, thin, few branches and less greenery. It was bowed over by the burden of the three or four ornaments – two of which were damaged. Yet, it was the family’s and it was beautiful. But not to the young man whose capstone comment was how foolish was this British tradition when everyone knows that a tree belongs outside; that one does not welcome a tree into the home. It does not belong. It is not the way of the world.
The Kenyans are a well mannered people. Even though this young man was a wet blanket on an otherwise wonderful evening, people let him have his say. But when he was done, an mzee, one of the respected elders in the clan, simply remarked: “The ways of the world, heh? It is the way of the world that the powerful eat and the rest go hungry. It is the way of the world that kings and leaders burden our backs and shoulders. The ways of the world are many. But these are not God’s ways. God, our king and Lord, could not wait to be with us and so God came to us…such is the way of love, not of the world. God the powerful knew hunger. God the king took on our burden. God who does not belong in the world, came among us as one of us. We welcome him into our homes. This Christmas tree is as weak and humble as the newborn Christ child but it is one our signs of God who comes into our homes. This is the way of God and not the way of the world”
Joseph did not follow the way of his world, but in love welcomed Mary into his home. The women of Kenya sang and danced the newborns into their homes. An elder in Kenya explained the new way of the world.
This night is a night when we welcome Christ anew into our homes. “Uje Bwana Jesu; uje kwa haraka” Lets us promise, tonight, that there will always be a place in our home for Jesus. And that we will make His way the way of our worlds.