A couple years ago I spent ten months teaching English on an island in the Middle East. Since I was American, and the country was friendlier towards non-Muslims than many of the countries over there, I got to attend church on a regular basis. I will never ever forget the Friday (the Islamic holy day is Friday, so the weekend was Friday and Saturday, with church services and mosque services – or whatever you call them – on Friday) when the Nativity came to life for me for the very first time.
Don’t get me wrong, I had grown up in a Christian household. I knew the Nativity story front and back. I even had a giant-sized coloring book of the story. But it wasn’t anything more to me than that – a cool story that was SUPPOSED to mean a lot to me, but instead it was the reason for the biggest holiday of the year and lots of presents. At least, that’s how I saw it.
And then God shook things up and laughed.
That Advent season in the Middle East was like nothing I had ever experienced before. The Sunday before Christmas, the Children’s Ministry did their traditional re-enactment of the Christmas story. And somehow, those kids brought the story to life for me. Maybe it was because I was in the same area of the world as Jesus had been when he was born. But I think it was the fact that not all the kids were white, and the shepherds didn’t wear bathrobes, and the wisemen wore thobes (the white robe-like thing that you see men from the Middle East wearing in pictures), and Mary was Indian. Somehow it was just more real and relevant to me than ever before. And I got it! I finally understood why Christmas was such a big deal!
I understood that Christmas is the culmination of thousands of years of yearning and heartache and faith that the Messiah would come. I understood that Christmas was just a precursor to the real show – Easter, when the entire WORLD would be healed. And that’s a wonderful thing.
So this Christmas, as you sit in church and dream about the presents under the tree, or the meal, or whatever it is you’re looking forward to this season, ask God to make the Nativity real for you. Ask Him to bring it to life for you in a way that it never before has. Maybe you need to look a homeless man in the eyes as you smile at him. Maybe you need to do something nice for a family member. Maybe something else completely. But ask. For once you grasp the Nativity, you begin to grasp the importance and beauty of the Story. And then you can let it shape you.
May your Christmas be Merry and full of Light!