In Africa there is a Zulu greeting – Sawubona (sow-o-bone-a) literally means ‘I see you’.
In the African village context, where everyone knows one another, it’s an exceedingly powerful statement. I see you. You are not invisible. You are not forgotten by me. It gives dignity and the respect to the one being greeted.
The birth of Jesus had a context. The context was of a people waiting to be rescued, to be set free. A people living in their own land but subject to the rule of the Roman Empire.
They were waiting for a saviour. A messiah. They were waiting for God to act. They had waited a long time. 400 years. There had been moments when it looked like they might gain their freedom. But it came to nothing.
After 400 years you might be tempted to ask.
Did God see them. Did God hear them. Did God see their pain. Did God hear their prayers.
When the angels appeared to the shepherds God was declaring ‘I see you’. I have not forgotten you.
After all these years of waiting. I’m coming to rescue you. I. Myself. Me.
I see your pain. Your anguish. Your frustration. I hear you. I hear your cries. I hear your prayers.
I am coming to answer.
In the first part of the Bible. Gods people had been in a similar position. For 400 years they had been slaves in the land of Egypt. God heard their cries. Responded to their prayers. And sent someone to rescue them. A man called Moses. He led the people to freedom. Out of oppression and injustice. To their promised land.
It’s what God does.
He sees us. He hears us. And he comes to us.
To rescue us. To save us. To be with us.
I don’t know your situation. I haven’t heard the prayers you’ve prayed – in hope that someone was listening. I don’t know the tears you’ve cried or the pain you’ve experienced.
But the Christmas story, the coming of Jesus is the evidence we need to know that that God does.
God has seen you. He has heard you. He understands. He shares in your pain.
And just like he did all those years ago he wants to come and be with you.
The response to Sawubona is Ngikhona ‘I am here’.
That is the response we can all make. Very simply – just like Mary. I am here.
To the God who sees us. Who hears us. Who wants to come and be with us.
I am here!