Kwanzaa Celebration: From the Cross to the Crib

Romans 12:1-8
December 26, 2000

The New Life in Christ

12 I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual † worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, † but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God-what is good and acceptable and perfect.

3 For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. 4 For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, 5 so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. 6 We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; 7 ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; 8 the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.

The Christmas rush has ended: we have probably experienced the Christmas pageant at our church, eaten our fill of turkey, gazed at the reality of the infant Jesus, and been dazzled by yet another Christmas tree.

In the midst of celebrating the new life of Christ, we remember that Christmas is meaningless without Calvary, and that new life requires a transformation. As Christ is revealed in the newness of life, we are encouraged to celebrate the spiritual and cultural expression of Christ in our midst. We are reminded of the words from the Letter of Paul to the Romans 12:2: "be transformed by the renewing of your minds." For many Afro-Anglicans, this celebration, is found in the spiritual ritual known as Kwanzaa.

Kwanzaa is a spiritual experience that embraces seven basic principals that empower and affirm the African-American cultural ethos. Essentially, Kwanzaa, is an Afro-American ritual that embraces and celebrates the harvest of the year, while remembering the ancestors who forged a path of liberation. It is an affirming celebration. Celebrated between December 26 and January 1, it is the only African-American ritual created to embrace history, mythology, creativity, social structure, political organization, and the economics of African-American life. Dr. Maulana Karenga, his family and friends, were the first to celebrate Kwanzaa, in Los Angeles, on December 26, 1966.

Christ calls us into a transforming relationship through our culture, our church, and our families so that others may be transformed. Christ is the beacon that leads us to explore the possibilities of life through the gifts we have, and to embrace these gifts as tools to empower others for Christ. Christ engages us as living, breathing agents of change who challenge an unbelieving world to love each other in the midst of peace and in the midst of controversy. This is one of the transformational experiences offered by the infant Christ: that we might be transformed to do the work of the ministry and to build the church of God for Christ. For us the transformation begins at the Cross and continues at the Manager. It is the reversal of fortune, looking as an adult at the sacrifice of the Cross, and to become like an infant in the eyes of God.

However, as bicultural people, we must experience Christ at all levels of life. Kwanzaa offers another level of spiritual expression. When the Kwanzaa table is set, the candleholder, known as the kinara, holds seven candles. The three red candles, three green candles, and one black candle at the center comprise the kinara. These symbols represent the African liberation flag. Each candle represents one of the seven principals and is lit on the day that principal is celebrated.

The seven principals of Kwanzaa are Umoja (Unity), Kujichagulia (self-determination), Ujima (collective work and responsibility), Ujamaa (cooperative economics), Nia (purpose), Kuumba (creativity), and Imani (faith).

It is from this African-American cultural ethos, combined with the transforming words of Paul's Letter to the Romans, that we find the authentic expression of love and peace in this holiday season. We are a cultural people, we are a transforming people, we are the people on the way to follow Christ and bring others to the Cross and to the Manger. But we are also a people who express our love through our many common and unique cultural experiences.

During this Christmas season, embrace the harvest of your life. Embrace the love of Christ expressed in your cultural experience. Share the wealth God has given us. This wealth includes the unconditional love to die on the Cross--and the countless times we can come to the Manger to be transformed into a new people for God. Let us not squander our resources by returning gifts that aren't comfortable or easy for us, or by watching countless hours of sports on television. During this Christmas season, embrace Umoja (Unity), Kujichagulia (self-determination), Ujima(collective work and responsibility), Ujamaa (cooperative economics), Nia (purpose), Kuumba(creativity), and Imani (faith). Embrace your cultural experience where we are transformed in Christ and share the new life in Christ at the Cross--and the Manger!


Christopher Sikkema