By Bishop Rosemarie Wenner*
Jesus is Brazilian and likes to dance the Samba. This is what children from the Shade and Fresh Water project sang in a video I watched recently. For German eyes and ears, nothing in the film reminds us of Christmas, but it clearly shows how the world changes when Christ finds a place among us.
Recently, we have been hearing how Jesus comes into the world in Brazil. Teca Greathouse, a youthful 67-year-old missionary, coordinates the project Shade and Fresh Water for the Brazilian Methodist Church. Greathouse came to Germany at the invitation of EmK Weltmission, the German United Methodist overseas mission board, attending the central conference and visiting several projects for children. She reported enthusiastically how Shade and Fresh Water is growing in Brazil.
Twelve years ago, five congregations opened their doors to children outside school hours, offering Christian education alongside sports and games, healthy food and creative activities. When searching for a name for this ministry, the organizers chose Shade and Fresh Water. In Brazil, this is a common way of expressing the basics necessary for life. Today, 75 churches in Brazil have Shade and Fresh Water projects. It was in one of these that the children wrote the words and composed and arranged the music for the Christmas song featured in the video.
This year I asked a children’s group in our Altenburg congregation in Saxony, Germany, to design a Christmas card for me. It is interesting that the picture I finally chose from among so many attractive designs has basically the same message as the Brazilian children’s song. The children in Altenburg show Jesus coming into the world here in Germany. Mary is lying in a regular bed, and a hospital nurse is looking after baby Jesus. Jesus is not just Brazilian. He is also Saxon, Swabian or East Frisian — from regions in the east, south and north of Germany. God becomes human; yet, at the same time, God is our Savior, our Redeemer. This happens everywhere; we just need to recognize it.
It shouldn’t astonish us when children point out this miracle. God becomes a child. Jesus puts children at the center and tells us that they are teachers in matters of faith. It is, therefore, in our best interest to pay more attention to children in church and society.
“For the Brazilian Methodist church,” Greathouse said, “children are priority No. 1.” This makes sense. Brazil is a country with plenty of children and a population that has, in comparison with Germany, a low average age. Nevertheless, in Germany, too, there are good reasons to put children at the center and particularly to be aware of those who need support and special care. Of course, to focus on children’s needs does not mean to exclude anyone else.
Jesus comes to every nation. He is close to people of every age and social class. Anyone who becomes properly acquainted with Jesus will see their fellow human beings in a new light, namely through the wondering, loving eyes of a child of God.
While visiting the Council of Bishops office in Washington on Dec. 11 — only three days before the shooting in Newtown took place — I recorded a Christmas greeting to the people of The United Methodist Church. In this greeting, I mentioned children in Germany who drew pictures of what Christmas meant to them, and especially a girl named Michele whose drawing I used as a Christmas card to send to colleagues and friends all over the world.
I offered a joyful message! Back in Germany later in the week, I heard of the school shooting in Newtown and I was shocked! What a difference! On one hand, we think of children who are preparing themselves for Christmas, singing in the church choir, preparing to be Mary, Joseph, a shepherd or an angel in a Nativity play; or painting wonderful pictures that envision the miracle of the Holy night. On the other hand, we see children in Newtown. They are shocked, because their friends were killed in an act of violence in the school shooting.
Both here and there, it’s Christmas time. And Christ, in whom God became a man, is right there where children prepare themselves to welcome him in a joyful environment and where children are frightened, scared and distressed. In fact, the life of baby Jesus was threatened by violence even as it began so that his parents had to protect him by escaping to Egypt.
Yes, it is Christmas time. And children — as well as their parents and all who are shocked by the Newtown shooting — are comforted and challenged by the message: “Your Savior is born today … and on earth peace.”
Christ is born in a peaceful neighborhood in Germany where a girl painted the Christmas message in a joyful way – not knowing what would happen to the children in Newtown. And Christ is born in all the places which are similar to Newtown. We who listen to the Christmas message will be transformed from fear to hope, from hope to action in order to build peace on earth. Therefore we will —by God’s grace — transform the world wherever we celebrate Christ’s birthday.
*Wenner is the president of the United Methodist Council of Bishops and serves the Germany Episcopal Area of The United Methodist Church. Gillian Horton-Krueger translated this message.