“The people walking in darkness have seen a Great Light, on those living in a land of deep darkness, a light has dawned… For unto us a child is born.” Isaiah 9:2,6 (NIV)
Christmas away from your friends and family is definitely a maturing experience. Christmas cannot be counted as a retreat into childhood joys of presents and chocolate, it is not a time for bickering with your family as you trip over each other in the kitchen, for old family stories you’ve heard too many times or the same CD that you could never hear enough (looking at you, Amy Grant’s “Tender Tennessee Christmas”). If Christmas is no longer those things, you have to figure out what it is instead.
Its common Western protocol to end a Christmas special with some nugget about what Christmas is “really about” – not presents or decorations but family, being with those you love, home, the spirit of giving, etc.
But many people, including myself this year, don’t really have those things either.
And yet Christmas comes. If Christmas is not all those things we say Christmas “really” is – then what is it?
And we return to these simple verses. “In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken…” Ones I’ve heard a million times and heard again last night; I smiled as they rang so familiar in my years, but so completely different than the context I knew them. No pulpits or red velvet, no fancy clothes or candles or booming, low, well-mic’ed readings, but translated off-the-cuff by a co-worker as we leaned forward in broken plastic chairs around card tables covered in homemade rice and whole barbequed fish. For this is Christmas too, for unto this, as well, is a child born.
Christmas in Thailand is going to look very different that Christmas in Brentwood, Tennessee. So the only thing Christmas really is, then, is the overlap. And that overlap, is really only Jesus, it is only those simple verses that tell a story of pregnant unmarried teenage peasant girl and a very risky plan to ransom the world.
I find myself thinking of a girl I met here, soft-spoken, strong, and sweet, she’s a little younger than Mary was when she gave birth in Bethlehem, and she’s due to deliver her baby in about a month. I read the story of Mary, and I see this precious girl’s face, and I am once again blown away by the mysteries and the scandalous unexpectedness of the coming of our King.
As I head into Christmas, I will be praying for the children we work with, for their families, and for the people I work alongside as well, for their rest and time with their families. People often say sweet things to me and the other interns about the sacrifices we made to be here – but to work here for your whole life, often spending up to a week in the field at a time, away from your family, and to pour your heart into the poor and oppressed willingly entering into the pain and darkness of others as a career? That is sacrifice.
I ask that you pray alongside me for those most in need and those that serve them this Christmas, and that, if you feel led, you consider helping IJM reach its end of the year fundraising goal that will make this work possible.
“For those walking in darkness have seen a Great Light, on those living in a land of deep darkness, a light has dawned… For unto us a child is born.”