Happy New Year! In a season of transitions and beginnings, let us look to our God, whose mercy and love are from of old, whose faithfulness continues through all generations, and who is making all things new. Against the temptation to rush ahead, Lucas Nascimento in Brazil invites us to pause and to ponder more closely a familiar scene and the profound mystery it reveals.
The largest and most culturally diverse country in Latin America, Brazil is home to over 210 million people. According to the 2010 Census, 65% of Brazilians are Catholic, 22% are Protestant, and 8% follow no religion. Pentecostal and Evangelical churches, in particular, have grown rapidly over the last decade. Although Brazil has the strongest economy in Latin America and the twelfth largest economy worldwide, unemployment has soared during the pandemic, and the wealth disparity has widened between the rich and the poor.
Lucas is pursuing a PhD in Theology (Biblical Studies) at Pontifícia Universidade Católica do Paraná in Brazil. His dissertation delves into Job’s final speech to address questions of faith amid human suffering. Lucas also teaches Old Testament and serves as Academic Coordinator at Faculdade Teológica Batista de São Paulo (Baptist Theological Seminary of São Paulo), which has participated in the Vital SustainAbility Initiative. His doctoral training will help him to strengthen Evangelical graduate programs, which remain very few in Brazil. Lucas is married to Juliana.
Lucas shares the following devotional and prayer requests:
Brazil is a very heterogeneous country, with cultures varying from region to region. In São Paulo, where I live, Christmas is commonly celebrated with family or in churches on Christmas Eve. Some more traditional families will wait until midnight for Christmas supper. A typical menu includes roasted turkey or other poultry, smoked ham, and roasted pork shank served with rice, farofa (grounded manioc root), mayonnaise, and other garnishes.
Families mark this season by decorating Christmas trees with lights and hanging garlands on doors. Churches celebrate with cantatas and theatrical plays of the birth of Jesus, usually one or two Sundays before the 25th. Family and community celebrations are marked by the joy of gathering.
A Mystery Revealed
The scene of Jesus’ birth takes on different nuances in Matthew’s and Luke’s Gospels. In Matthew, the star guides the Magi from the East to Bethlehem as they search for the king who would be born. In Luke, the angel announces Christ’s birth to the shepherds. These different elements of the same scene add beauty to each narrative.
It is Luke’s description, though, that makes its way into Brazilian homes as families set up cribs of different sizes, materials, colors, and details in nativity scenes depicting “Mary and Joseph, and the boy lying in the manger” (Lk. 2:16). Though in focus at this time of year, this scene is sometimes quickly forgotten on the 26th.
The simplicity and beauty of the scene can also veil its profundity. Commonly identified with everyday life, the image of a humble family – father, mother, and the little baby – can hide its gravity, which is expressed in John’s Gospel: “And the Word was God […] and the Word was made flesh” (John 1:1,14). The power of revelation engulfs this mundane scene: God dwells with us. Emmanuel.
Before everyday suffering, life’s dangers and ambiguities, inexplicable violence, and the human condition in its naked fragility, the nativity scene reveals the mystery of Christmas – the mystery of the God who is not unmoved by human reality. It reveals the mystery of the God who identifies with humanity, who steps on our earth, lives our contingencies, suffers our violence, cries our tears, feels our pain. May the nativity scene revive our awareness of God’s presence and solidarity with us.
I ask for prayer for wisdom in time management for balancing work, studies, family, and ministry. 2021 was a year of big changes that have taken a personal toll. Therefore, I ask for prayer for emotional health, discernment, and resilience.
Pray also for the physical health of my wife, Juliana, who went through some challenges this year.
More generally, I ask for prayer for the churches and Christians in Brazil who have given their hearts to political passions, putting those above their commitment to the Gospel.