Christmas Away from Home
The Christmas of 1968 would be like no other. Snow was out of the question; the temperature soared. Green trees, tile-roof houses, and dust-covered zinnias lined the rutted, dusty road as we traveled to the home in a rural town in central Brazil.
Children played in front of colorful houses, but there were no decorated trees in the windows. It was Christmas Eve, but nothing in the surroundings spoke of Christmas. This scene had nothing in common with home.
Robert’s dad had picked us up in Brazilia and flown us to their town. I drank in sights that were familiar to the one I loved, while wondering what it would be like to meet the rest of Robert’s family and thinking of my family back home.
It sure didn’t feel like Christmas.
After greetings, hugs, and settling in, I joined the brothers in a quick trip to a store downtown. The cobblestone street was covered with dirt that had washed over it in the rain. Three horse-drawn taxis waited for passengers at the end of the block, but the street was mostly empty.
The store fronts had garage door-like door that were raised, making the stores open to the sidewalks. The shelves mostly held staples, with a couple of small shelves dedicated to a few gift-type items. There were no signs of Christmas. No decorations. No music in the background. Nothing.
I’d finished college exams and was eager for my favorite time of year. But this didn’t feel like Christmas.
After supper, we all went to church for the Christmas Eve service. I couldn’t understand the Portuguese, but excitement was high and fellowship seemed sweet as people greeted each other. A few even went out of their way to speak to me. I mostly smiled and nodded my head in return, occasionally being able to use the few short responses I’d learned.
Then the program began. We sang familiar carols–with unfamiliar words, Mary and Joseph walked to Bethlehem, spoke to the inn keeper and were taken to the stable. On the side of the stage, an angel spoke to the shepherds, and then a host of angels sang. And so the story progressed as the shepherds and then the wise men bowed before the baby in the manger.
This was Christmas. One that I understood. The story is the same wherever it’s told and in whatever language is used to tell it.
“God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son.” That Son came in the flesh and was born in a manger.
The Father’s love and the birth of that special Son are told and celebrated throughout the world.
That’s what Christmas is all about. Not the snow, decorated stores, houses, or trees. Not even the wrapped and ribboned gifts under the tree, or even the music. Christmas is not about cultural traditions.
Those things might make us merry and bright (as well as stressed and uptight), but lasting peace, joy, and life comes from knowing the Son whose birth we celebrate.
When our focus turns to celebrate Jesus, we’re at home–wherever we are.