¡Flores de Noche Buena! - Reflection by Canon Neal


Read Canon Neal's reflection for Tuesday, 29 December, 2020.

One of my favourite Christmas stories comes from Mexico. I’ve no idea if it’s true, but I so want it to be!

It concerns a little girl called Pepita, who lived in a village in that country, many years ago. It was Christmas Eve, and the residents of the village were on their way to the church to celebrate the birth of Jesus. It was their tradition to place flowers at the Crib on their way into church. People would buy large and bright floral arrangements, usually spending a lot of money. But Pepita had no money at all, let alone money to spend on flowers. She was sad as she walked along the road to the church. She had nothing to lay at the Crib and offer as her ‘thank you’ to Jesus. Her brother suggested that she collect some of the weeds by the roadside – it was better than nothing. Being the middle of winter, none of the wild plants appeared to be in flower so she picked a bunch of greenery. Unbeknown to her, amongst the greenery were some stems of a plant that the Aztecs called ‘cuetlaxochitl’. It had dark green leaves and the tinest white flowers – barely visible.

Pepita laid her bunch of ‘weeds’ at the Crib, trying to do it without being noticed whilst everyone else proudly placed their grand bunches of showy, colourful flowers. Then she and everyone else went into the serivce. Pepita felt better in the service, singing hymns of praise to Jesus and hearing again the wonderful story of that first Christmas. When it was time to leave the church, she noticed that a crowd of people had gathered excitedly around the Crib. They were looking at her ‘bunch of weeds’. Except that, far from being a handful of greenery, it was resplendent with colour! One of the stems of cuetlaxochitl had developed pure and bright white leaves at the top. The other had the most vivid scarlet leaves. They outshone all the other bunches of flowers. The priest proclaimed it as a miracle! He said that the white leaves were there to remind them of the star of Bethlehem and the light of the world that came to earth that first Christmas in the form of a baby. The red leaves were to represent the blood of Jesus, that he would shed at the end of his earthly life on that first Good Friday. So Pepita’s humble bunch of weeks became the most precious offering of flowers at the Crib that Christmas in Mexico. As you have probably guessed by now, the cuetlaxochitl of the Aztecs is the plant that we know as the Poinsettia. [For the horticulturally-minded among you, it is a type of Euphorbia.]

As I say, I’d love that story to be true! It does, however, explain how we come to have poinsettias in many of our homes at Christmas time. In Mexico, they are known as the ‘Flores de Noche Buena’ – the ‘Flowers of Holy Night’.

The story is really about love: of the love of God the Father in sending Jesus to earth to bring about his rescue plan for all humanity; of the love of Jesus in being willing to come to earth as a baby, and to die as a man so that the we could be brought back into a beautiful relationship with our Creator. It is surely also about the love of Pepita for Jesus. She brought the best that she could offer to Jesus that evening, as her way of showing her devotion and gratitude. Her loving actions blessed many other people by reminding them of the true message of Christmas. That message is love; self-giving love which flows out of the love of God, when we respond in adoration and worship and then allow that love to move us in action to pass it on to others. What we may regard as the ‘weeds’ of our life can, when offered whole-heartedly to God, be taken by him and transformed into something that makes a real difference.

At Liverpool Cathedral, we seek above all things to allow people to encounter the God who knows them and loves them. And to give them space to respond to his love in whatever way seems appropriate and right to them. As we come to the end of this year of very alien experiences and emotions, that vision has not dimmed. The desire for all of us to encounter God’s love is still there, front and centre, through crises caused by a global pandemic, and in the good times too. It will be a vision which will carry us on into 2021, whatever that may bring. In the meantime, why not take a few moments to gaze at a poinsettia, either in the picture or at a real plant if you have one in your home, and to give thanks for the ‘Flores de Noche Buena’?!

Canon Neal

While you're here:
Why not prepare for next Sunday's worship? Our preparation sheet for adults and for children can be accessed by clicking on the Resources tab of our prayer blog, Prayer for Liverpool: https://www.prayerforliverpool.org/prayer-resources.html.