Christmas is always such a busy time. You have more to do than usual. Your to-do list seems never-ending, the hours in the day seem shorter than normal, and the tendency to push yourself is compounded.
“Who lives in a stable?”
“Jesus lives in the stable!”
At first I laughed at that answer my four-year-old sister gave during my impromptu lesson on animals and their habitats. But her answer kept coming back to me. Jesus lives in the stable. Was that the only place she saw Jesus come alive for me?
Sometimes I feel paralyzed by all the suffering in the world. There’s simply no way I could make a dent in all the hunger, sickness, poverty, depression, oppression, loneliness, and death. When you look at the brokenness in its entirety, all you see is desolation.
I was thinking about my mom on her birthday, and realized that there was something very special about my childhood—the times we spent together. More specifically, I was thinking about the Christmases when I was small. The thing that made each memory special wasn’t the number or value of the gifts we received or the Christmas parties we attended. Rather, it was the simple things.
I grew up in Communist Romania, where there was a state ban on religion, so “finding Christmas” wasn’t easy.
“Don’t use the word ‘Christmas’ at school or with people you don’t know,” I remember being told when I turned school age. We used the word at home because some members of my extended family were old enough to have grown up before the ban and still secretly kept the holiday. With everyone else, the tree was to be called “the New Year tree.” Christmas was “the winter holiday.” If we children received gifts, there was no mention of Christmas attached.
Over the years, Christmas has taken on different meanings for me. When I was a young child, it meant a special family holiday, the Christmas story at Sunday school, walking home in the snow, a brown paper bag with a big Jaffa orange, whole walnuts to crack, and a new book to read.
It was my first Christmas in Taipei, Taiwan, when I heard the Christmas classic “Silent Night” sung in Chinese for the first time. It made a special impression, and I remember thinking that I had to learn the words. The first line was fairly easy—after all, half of it is the song title—but beyond that it got harder.
Without an enemy there can be no war.
I recently rewatched the movie Joyeux Noël (Christian Carion, 2005), which tells the story of a well-documented event that occurred on a battlefield in France on Christmas Eve, 1914.
One of the portions of the Nativity story that I find most beautiful and meaningful is when the angel appeared to the shepherds and announced Jesus’ birth, followed by a multitude of heavenly hosts praising God. It’s such a fitting entrance for the birth of the Son of God:
It was wintertime and I had just arrived in the state of Goa, the former Portuguese colony on the southwest coast of India. I was a long way from my home country of Brazil, but right away I made friends with a young mixed-faith couple—he was Catholic and she was Hindu—whose marriage had been rejected by both their families. They had opened a small restaurant right on one of the beaches popular with backpack tourists, where they let us sleep at night.