For Christmas Eve, we gathered as a team in our katubi with the village children to celebrate the Christ child. Pat brought out homemade costumes for Mary, Joseph, shepherds, the three kings, Herod, soldiers, and the angel. As each role was handed out, the story began to come alive for me.
Mary was played by Esta, a sweet girl who around 14 years of age. She is fatherless and lives with her mother and step father, our neighbor. She quietly helps our neighbor, watching their children, collecting firewood, washing, bring water from the tap, etc. She never complains and always has a peaceful smile. She rarely goes to school, but she has taught herself some English and some letters.
Joseph was chosen by Gonja, the eldest son of our neighbor who we see proudly going to market for his family to buy goods, wrestles with neighborhood kids, and is trying to figure out his place in this world. Gonja’s little brother Charity chose to be the angel. He wore banana leaves as wings. He is a little guy with a constant smirk on his face, is fun-loving, engaging and tough enough to strike fear in small shepherds.
Herod and the Three Kings were seen as the prize positions. Most the shops in Uganda have a photo of the President and of the tribal king. The kings are pictured sitting in a thrown with a crown and elegant robes. Kingship is something definitely known and to be desired. Since Herod was the king of the land, they all wanted to play this role. After he was chosen, the three other boys settled to be the wisemen.
The next coveted position was Herod’s soldiers. Just like the Herdman’s right? Since we are a border town, soldiers regularly patrol our streets. To these kids, being soldier means respect, power of the gun and a stable income. Those chosen for this roll quickly found sticks and made wooden AK-47s.
Lastly, we asked for volunteers to be shepherds. No one raised their hand. We told them that it is the shepherds who God tells the good news to first. Still, no one volunteered. Shepherds and cow herders here are leathery lonely characters, paid little, with few possessions, and no respect. It is better to be even a sustinance farmer.
And just like that, I realized the story of Christmas for the first time again. We live in a land of struggling young men, displaced young women, kings, soldiers, and shepherds. The people of Luke 2 are real and all around us. Kings and soldiers are good. The harshness of poverty and the life of shepherds are burdensome. Yet, in the Christmas story, everything is turned upside down. Herod and the soldiers are the bad guys. God goes to the shepherds. He loves the humble, He goes to the displaced, He gives hope to those who have none, He finds the lost and rejoices with those who are overlooked.
Thank you Jesus that you came to dwell with everyone of us.