Originally I was asked to tell you a little bit about how I celebrated Christmas in a very muslim area of North
Cameroon. I’ll still do that, but I’d like to talk about something a little more fundamental first,
namely, why was I there in the first place? Why be a missionary? Isn’t it better just to leave people alone?
I mean basically, all religions are the same, aren’t they? Isn’t it disrespectful to someone’s
religious beliefs and traditions to try to convert them?
It is actually quite straightforward, although theologians will write
endless contradictory volumes on the subject, some of which I am forced
to study, but I won’t bore you with that!
Basically it is all about the Truth and the answer you give to a simple
question. The question is this: Is Jesus of Nazareth the Son of God?
It’s as straightforward as that!
Or, if you want it put another way: Is the child laying in the manger the
Son of God? Now, if it’s true, if that baby, Jesus of Nazareth, really is
the Son of God then there are enormous implications. And because of the
implications there isn’t really any room for lukewarm responses of the
type, well perhaps, possibly, but I’m not sure. You have to come down on
one side or the other. The Jews and the Muslims have come down on one
side, and Christians have come down on the other. Now, where do you
As I said, the question is straightforward – it’s the implications that
are enormous! If that child really is the Son of God then the world has
been changed. But more than that! If that child really is the Son of God
then it has implications for every single human being that has ever lived and
will ever live, regardless of race, gender or religion. If God has chosen
to intervene decisively in our human affairs by sending his Son then that
will have bearings on the life of everyone without exception.
So, back to the question, is Jesus of Nazareth the Son of God? Yes,
You know, we are in a real privileged position. We know a truth, which
many don’t know and a few deny. We know that the son of Mary is Emmanuel,
that Jesus of Nazareth is the Son of God. But this privilege we have is
not because of anything we have done ourselves. We don’t know this truth
because of any effort we have made, or because we are intelligent or
smart, or more worthy or more holy than anyone else – far from it! No, we
know the truth because God has chosen to reveal it to us. It is his gift
– even though we may not deserve it. It is a gift we receive with
humility and it is a gift that comes with responsibilities.
Therefore, the truth that Jesus of Nazareth is the Son of God is not the
private concern of a few. Since it has a bearing on all humankind, since
all humankind have the right to hear it, we have a responsibility to
proclaim it. Not with arrogance or a misplaced sense of superiority, but
with humility and love, acting as a servant, following the example of
Jesus Christ, Son of God. That is why Christians are missionaries. We
are the servants of the truth. That’s why I was in Cameroon. That’s why
I was living in a small Christian community in a Muslim region.
So, back to Christmas! As you can imagine, Christmas celebrations in
North Cameroon are very different to what you find in South Wales! First
of all the climate: December is the middle of the dry‑season and
temperatures are about 40 degrees Centigrade which sounds lovely, but when
you’ve been brought up in the northern hemisphere it’s supposed to be
cold! Then there is no turkey. Christmas dinner last year was a boa
constrictor – I kid you not, actually it’s very nice! There are no
Christmas cards, no presents, no decorations, no lights, no tinsel, no
repeats on TV, no TV! None of the cards or presents I was sent from home
arrived, although some cards did come mid‑January. The whole build‑up to
Christmas is missing. When you are living in a town of 8,000 people 99%
of whom don’t have any idea that it’s Christmas and just get on with their
everyday lives it’s really difficult to get into the mood. Christmas Day
was always spent on the road, visiting the Christians in the villages and
small towns around. We’d cover about 150km in a pick‑up truck on mud
Anyway, the Christians did try to make an effort and for Midnight Mass we
always arranged something special. Last year everyone was told to bring a
lamp to Mass. Most people use a paraffin lamp for everyday use because
the electricity is so unreliable. Throughout Mass a small fire was kept
burning by the crib. At the end of Mass all the lights were put out and we
read the beginning of John’s Gospel, about how the Light came into the
world. ĘThen everyone lit their lamps and we processed out of the Church
into the town singing ‘Angels we have heard on high,’ in French.
As I said at the start, it’s all about the truth. And the truth is that
the light of the world has come into the world. It’s our responsibility
to tell people that truth. Last Christmas was quite special for me. The
Church is built on a hill outside the town. I had a superb view of all
these lamps being carried into town into the darkness, spreading out, and
lighting up the night, and I could hear everyone singing ‘Gloria in
excelsis Deo!’ That’s how last year the Christian Community of Tignere
proclaimed to our Muslim neighbours the truth that Jesus is the Son of God
and that the Light really has come into the world.
There are many ways to proclaim the Good News, but the best and most
effective way is nearly always our witness. If we act in a way that
corresponds to the truth we proclaim then other people will take notice of
us, and if the Holy Spirit so prompts them, they will also believe.