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“That is my son, my baby!”

Derek and Rosemary Snibson are CMS missionaries in Darwin, Australia, where they serve in the community and run regular Bible studies and worship services at a local prison. Here, they share how a simple nativity play and a mother’s cry of recognition reminded them of the mingled joy and pain of the Christmas story.

“Life was in him, and that life was the light for all people. The light shines in the darkness. But the darkness has not overcome the light.” John 1:4-5, NIRV 

After some years, we have been growing in our relationships with residents of several Aboriginal communities around Darwin. Some have expressed varying degrees of faith or past church involvement.  

In the main Aboriginal community in Darwin, we join residents for Sunday worship, a weeknight Bible study, and other special occasions. There are frequent disruptions. People with various stories, languages and needs drop in and out at the open hall with no walls. Local kids and dogs wander in and run around.  Sometimes no-one has paid the power bill, so we meet in the dark. 

We have been exploring with them about growing in faith around the Bible and how we might celebrate Christmas, Easter and other key events.  

 A key priority for us has been to not ‘organise and run it’, but to encourage residents to lead in the ways and languages that they think would be best for their community.  

A simple nativity  

Each year, residents are keen to put on a nativity play, helping to decorate, provide food and dress up children. Last Christmas, struggling to find a doll to represent the baby Jesus, the obvious dawned: a recent baby boy who had arrived a few months earlier would be perfect!  

His carer was the grandmother, because her daughter was in prison. With little fanfare and meagre props on the cold concrete, this little one was gently placed into a basket. The timing of his appearance in this ‘manger’ was not exactly to script.  

Amid the movement and noise of some other children playing near the back of the hall, the message was clear. Just like with the original event we were retelling, some missed it, not taking in the meaning of what was happening. 

For others, it was simple but precious. Unlike the year before, none of the children wanted to dress up. In a way, this made the simplicity and poverty of the original nativity story even more stark. 

After simple worship, food was enjoyed or taken home for hungry families.  ‘God with us’ was the Good News told and ‘made flesh’ in this community. The baby, basket and leftover food were then packed up for their homes… where not all enjoyed ‘peace on earth’. 

A cry at Christmas 

A few weeks later, Rosemary was at the women’s section of the prison, sharing the Christmas story, and recalling the baby in the basket in that hall.  

As his name was mentioned, a woman at the back, unknown to the leaders, leapt to her feet: “That is my son, my baby!” She was from that community too. 

She beamed with joy and pride, mixed with the grief of not being there, to share in the celebration.  

Joy to the world 

Something deeper hit home to us that Christmas.  

The coming of the Light into the darkness, in simplicity, poverty and weakness. He still enters unknown, imprisoned hearts and lives, and brings the new birth of hope. This mother’s cry of loving declaration echoes another: that of the Father, for his soon-to-be-abandoned Son; and for our broken world.   

Yet the pain and cost of failure, of separation, still lingers, until the joy of that story, connecting to our own, hits home. In surprising ways and places, it brings unexpected ‘joy to the world’.  

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Could you give financially to support the work of CMS missionaries bringing the hope of the gospel to communities in Australia and beyond? Go to www.cms.org.au/get-involved/give/ to find out more.