by Mary Lou
Everyone has been praying. Everyone has been going about their business. Christmas has been marred by bomb blasts in churches in northern Nigeria in recent years. But people defy these things if they can, yet keep a watchful eye. This underlying tension is not so unlike that of Jesus’ day. The Roman Occupation defined Mary and Joseph’s lives; the wise men kept looking behind their backs for Herod’s men. They and Jesus’ family escaped, but horribly a whole village of mothers and babies did not. Christmas 2013 in Jos has been peaceful, but some outlying villages experienced pre-Christmas attacks and of course other parts of the north live with much more terror and violence.
The courage to insist on living life and insist on faith despite what might or might not happen came home during the Christmas Eve service we attended. We worship at a local Catholic parish whose priest is a friend and MCC adviser.
It turned out that the Christmas Eve celebration was also a baptism. 31 (yes thirty-one!) people were baptized. This was not a baptism service for infants, it was a service of baptism for people of all other ages – some children, but many young people and one or two older than that. They were all dressed in white.
The service had a beautiful choir who sang both praise songs as well as a few Christmas carols like Silent Night and O Come All Ye Faithful. The St. Matthew choir is different from many church musical groups we hear in that they usually sing in harmony and without much instrumentation – a drum or two and a keyboard. Simple. Joyful. The 900-person sanctuary was half filled with those who were willing to risk walking to the church in darkness.
There were several rituals involved in the Sacrament of Baptism. Four times the candidates came forward to the altar for various aspects of the service. It was quiet and peaceful as we watched Fr. Tony Fom move along baptizing each person quietly and intimately “in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” Perhaps the most beautiful part of the service was when each candidate, previously given a candle, had it lit as a sign that they now carry Christ’s light with them. While different in meaning, it reminded me of our Christmas Eve services in K-W of Lessons and Carols where we also light candles as a sign of the Light that comes into the world.
Finally, Holy Communion. First it was served to recently baptized and then to their godparents and then the rest. As Protestants, we do not partake but it is still meaningful to witness this ritual and listen to the music.
We came away blessed and amazed. Amazed that 31 people chose to participate in a new world of faith and hope and identify with Christ’s body in spite of fear and insecurity!