It doesn't look like Christmas in our dusty Asian city. It's just like any other day: cows meander in the streets, a traditionally-dressed woman carries a bundle of sticks on her head, puppies yip and yap, and security guards chew betel-nut and stroll along the borders of my complex. The temperature is a comfortable +26°C and the air smells faintly of smoke, though it's not coming from fireplaces with stocking-adorned mantels. I hear a pounding hammer and cooking vessels clanging. On Friday, I asked an employee: "Have you ever celebrated Christmas before?" He shook his head and didn't really look like he cared whether he ever would. Christmas is no biggie here.
Canadian friends were visiting me for a few weeks, and together we found gangly plastic Christmas trees available in three heights: 3', 5', and 7'. We rustled through kitschy gold plastic bells to find a few lights and star garlands with which to decorate my tree of choice—the 5'. Later in the week, we picked bugs out of the flour and ground coarse sugar to make it slightly finer, for some Christmas baking. I'm hoarding bits of mail that come and putting them under the tree to open on Christmas morning. Sitting alone in the office on Saturday, I chomped my one imported candy cane and listened to Mary, Did You Know? and I'll Be Home for Christmas. And so it goes; I'm pulling together bits of Christmas, Asia-style.
A few nights ago, my roommates had a heated argument during supper. I tentatively dipped my chapati into my greenish-black moong dal and then escaped to my room as soon as possible to avoid the clatter and conflict. When I resurfaced, still a bit tired by their fighting, the conversation with the remaining roommate was still about house business and roommate matters. Should we have a grocery purchasing schedule? Why does so-and-so do such-and-such? We stood meters away from my Christmas decorations, discussing things that seemed so far from peace on earth, on this December 21.
But then, the conversation took a turn toward grace. Toward talk of relationships and forgiving before the sun goes down. "Your Book says that? My dad used to teach me to not go to bed angry, but I didn't know it was from the Book." I commended her for the apology she'd texted to the other roommate about the argument they'd had. Suddenly, my roommate said, "You know, it's been a long time since we've had a Book study together on a Sunday. How about tomorrow, we have breakfast and a study?"
And just like that, I remembered that Christmas is right here, because Christmas happens wherever incarnation happens. Living with roommates of such different backgrounds, worldviews and cultures is challenging. But the Christ Who lives in my body has a chance to incarnate over moong dal, at the dining room table, or next to the Christmas tree. He has the chance to shine through in the elevator, in the way I speak to an employee or boss, or in the love I show to a neighbour. And that is the essence of Christmas: incarnation.
When He lives in me, I live Christmas. And for all the cozy
descriptors we use for this season, true Christmas is as bundled with
tears, frustrations and struggle as it is with joy, peace and goodwill. Didn't the need for Christmas start
with a power struggle, that of Adam's race seeking to overthrow God's authority? Haven't the forces of evil battled
his coming ever since, seeking to eliminate the royal line? The fact of
the baby's divinity didn't minimize the severity of the contractions
that throbbed through Mary's abdomen on Christmas night, or eliminate Joseph's struggle to keep pure and obedient until Mary was his. When the incarnation was approaching its culmination, Christ was sweating blood. Don't think Christmas is missing because you don't have warm fuzzies. The incarnation of which we speak at Christmas often comes on the heels of hardship.
When that word which we heard from the beginning (1 Jn 2:5) is in us
(1:10), and we keep His word (2:5) and let it abide in us (2:24), we are
applying the theology of Christmas. He came among us so that the truth
could be in us (1 Jn 1:8). Our eyes, mouths, hands, and feet can be
used to physically represent truth; to give flesh and bones to spiritual
concepts like grace and truth. "He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked" (1 Jn 2:6). J'esus can walk the earth again, through me, through you.
Christmas is "the Word
became flesh and dwelt among us."
Christmas is "Let it be to me according to your word."
Christmas is "Not my will but Yours be done."
Christmas is five hundred bowls of dal in exchange for fifteen good conversations.
Christmas does whatever it takes to minister reconciliation.
So this morning, we lived Christmas. We sat next to my scrawny tree with a candle burning, but that had nothing to do with it, really. Between breakfast and our Sunday tasks, we talked through John 1, about light and life and incarnation. And here, in my dusty corner, I found Christmas.