“In Thy Dark Streets Shineth the Everlasting Light”
My wife, Beth, and I spent several weeks in October and early November in Bolivia and Peru. We went to Bolivia by invitation of the Bishop of the Evangelical Methodist Church of Bolivia, Obispo Javier Rojas. In multiple gatherings of clergy, lay leaders and educators we presented WHF’s new publication of 27 of John Wesley’s sermons in Quechua, one of the primary indigenous languages of the Andean countries, which includes Bolivia. I also gave several lectures on “Wesleyan Theology through the Sermons of John Wesley” and had the opportunity to preach at Cristo Rey Methodist Church in Cochabamba. We did similar events among Methodists in La Paz.
We had the joy of having Johnny Llerena accompany us. Mr. Llerena is Executive Coordinator of WHF’s Institute for Wesley Studies in Lima, Peru (Instituto de Estudios Wesleyanos Latinoámerica). We are very grateful that he could share with us in these high moments. We are deeply appreciative of Johnny’s ministry and for the ways he is extending the mission of the Foundation and Institute throughout Latin America.
In North America Christians are accustomed to moving from the recognition of the Saints (what the secular world calls Halloween) to the celebration of Thanksgiving (a distinctively US holiday); followed afterwards by the preparation for (Advent) and celebration of Christmas. It was interesting to be in Peru and Bolivia in recent weeks where Christians move from All Saints Day almost immediately into all the signs of “Navidad” (the birth of Christ). Many of these signs of Navidad are secular (Santa Claus, snowmen, elves and reindeer), just like in the United States. As a side note: a number of years ago I bought in Peru a small ceramic replica of the “manger scene” with Frosty the Snowman towering over it. I’m sure that would market quite well here in the US also.
It was the experience of the quick transition from All Saints to Navidad (minus a Thanksgiving in South America) which struck me as very interesting. We in the US have Thanksgiving to help “buffer” the startup of preparations for Christmas. However, there are many signs in the US that Thanksgiving may not be doing that any longer: after returning from Peru on November 14 we went to our local grocery (two weeks before Thanksgiving) and found that the pumpkins and other signs of Thanksgiving had been replaced with Christmas decorations.
To the point: What I found interesting in Peru about the quick transition from All Saints (in early November) to preparation for Navidad (in early November and pre-Advent!) was the profound connection between death and birth. Here is what happened:
While journeying by bus from La Paz, Bolivia, back into Peru, we stopped over in Juliaca, Peru to visit with the Methodist Superintendent of that area. Together with Venancio and his family we visited the Altiplano cemetery in Juliaca on All Saints Day. Many families were gathered there, as is their tradition, sitting around the tombs/graves of their loved ones. On top of the tombs they spread out table cloths filled with food, and there they feasted, drank, sang songs, prayed and shared memories (see the photo in this newsletter). What a beautiful scene it was; a very special way to commemorate the Day of the Saints.
The next day we stopped by a store in the area to buy some provisions for our next trip (our next event was to be in Arequipa, about 6 hours away by bus, and about 7,000 feet below the 14,000 feet of Juliaca). As we entered the store there were all the signs of Christmas! Families were moving very quickly from the “fiesta of hope” tied to the belief in the eternal Communion of the Saints to the “fiesta of hope” tied to the belief that in the birth of Christ “God imparts to human hearts the blessings of his heaven” (“O Little Town of Bethlehem”).
In the preparations of this season may we proclaim that all of our loved ones in the faith who have died before us; and all those who are yet to be born into the church; and all of us who are seeking to be faithful witnesses to Christ in the here and now; are all bound up together in a great mystery which unites us in the celebration of Christ’s Advent as Lord of all time and of both heaven and earth.
During this holy season, may you experience this grand, majestic, and universal promise of grace which comes to all of us in the birth of Jesus. “Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting light; the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.”
Grace and peace, and Merry Christmas,
Mark W. Wethington
(Read more in the WHF Newsletter Fall/Winter 2013)