Christmas in the Cameroon

A Sermon at Christmas 2002 by a Seminarian

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 stand?

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, absolutely!

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 tracks.

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.

©: Christopher Hancock of Cardiff, who was then a student for the priesthood, preached this sermon at a Mass in St. Mary of the Angels RC Church, Canton, Cardiff, during the season of Christmas, 2002. He was ordained to the priesthood there in June 2004. The Mass during which he was ordained was extraordinary and unforgettable because a number of seminarians and priests from Africa were present. They played music from that continent and alongside the more familiar hymns in English and Welsh the Archbishop, priests, seminarians and people were able to join in the singing of some wonderful hymns in a number of African languages.

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