By Donald Sybertz and Joseph Healey
Once upon a time when Jesus was still in this world, there was an African woman named Kwiyolecha which means "The Showoff" or "a person who wants to make a big impression" in Sukuma, an important language in Tanzania. After hearing him speak as no person has ever spoken, Kwiyolecha met Jesus in Shinyanga town three days before Christmas and asked him, "Lord, when will you come to visit us? I see you visiting other people, but you haven’t come to our home yet." Jesus replied, "Dear woman, just wait three days and I promise to pay you a visit on Christmas Day."
When Kwiyolecha heard this she was delighted and immediately went home to prepare for the coming of the Lord Jesus on Christmas Day. The Tanzanian woman cleaned her house very well and decorated inside and outside with many ornaments of the Christmas season. She hung colorful African cloths everywhere. She and her servants prepared special food and drink especially the local beer. They slaughtered the bull that they had been fattening. Having prepared everything to the best of her ability, Kwiyolecha dressed in her finest African dress. Then she sat down and waited for the Lord’s arrival with joyful expectation.
Early on Christmas morning a bent old man with sores on his legs appeared at Kwiyolecha’s house. Upset at this intrusion, she told the man sharply: "What have you come here for? I’m waiting for an important visitor and I don’t want you messing up my house. Go away immediately." Without saying a word the bent old man left.
Some time later a very old lady appeared dressed in rags and supporting herself with a stick. Exasperated and angry, Kwiyolecha said to herself, "Why are all these things happening to me?" She rebuffed the old woman and told her, "Get out of here." The very old lady did as she was told.
Finally at midday a badly crippled Tanzanian boy appeared. He raised a cloud of dust as he dragged along his twisted legs. Kwiyolecha was very annoyed when she saw him and said, "What is this wretch doing here?" She told the boy, "Get away from here as soon as possible and don’t come back again." The boy immediately went away.
Then for the rest of Christmas Day Kwiyolecha waited patiently for the Lord Jesus, but he never came.
The next day, which happened to be the 26th of December, Kwiyolecha met Jesus in Shinyanga town and said: "Lord, why didn’t you come to our home yesterday? I waited and waited for you. Why didn’t you keep your promise?" The Lord replied, "Kwiyolecha, I came to visit you three times, but you did not receive me. When you refused to welcome the bent old man, the very old lady dressed in rags and the badly crippled boy who came to your home, you refused to welcome me."
At first Kwiyolecha was dumbfounded. Then she remembered Jesus" words in the Gospel of St. Matthew: "Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me." She began to realize for the very first time what it means to be a follower of Christ and the real meaning of Christian hospitality. So Kwiyolecha looked for another opportunity to celebrate Christmas by welcoming Jesus in a bent old man, a very old lady dressed in rags and a badly crippled boy who might come to her home.
NOTE: This African Christmas story is based on a Sukuma (Tanzania) adaptation of a traditional universal legend. The adaptation is written by Father Don Sybertz, M.M. and Father Joseph Healey, M.M. and is found on page 172 of the book Towards an African Narrative Theology (Pauline Publications Africa, 3rd Reprint 2000 and Orbis Books, Second Printing 1999). There are many wonderful versions of this lovely centuries-old legend such as "Where Love Is, God Is" by Leo Tolstoy, "The Christmas Guest" as told by Helen Steiner Rice and the children’s story "The Woman Who Met Jesus" by Elizabeth Chebet.
Rev.Donald Sybertz, M .M.
Rev. Joseph Healey, M.M.
Dar es Salaam, Tanzania