Thursday, December 5, 2013

Christmas on the Mission Field

Photo by: artur84


Oh, the memories! When we lived in our “home” country, I remember fragrant trees full of lights, the magic feeling of entering the living room on Christmas morning. I remember believing in Santa Claus—and then finding out Santa was my Daddy. I remember eggnog, fruitcake, making cookies, and eating pumpkin pies. My mother decorated the table with red candles and greenery. We loved Christmas!

My husband and I were in our twenties when we made the move across the sea. Spain was a whole new Christmas experience. While strolling through the city, we noticed that almost every store window contained some version of a manger scene. Some included a whole village of people, cows, and sheep—beside wise men and camels! We took our little children to the parade in town. It started with a young man in Eastern dress carrying a pole with a comet-star on it. Then came people with torches, and floats. The first float had a makeshift stable on it, with Mary, Joseph, and Baby Jesus inside. After the floats, passed shepherds with small herds of sheep and children carrying lambs and rabbits. There was a group of men in native Spanish costumes, strutting with huge bells on their backs. Then, we heard the excited crowd, “They’re coming! They’re coming!” In no time, we could see the horses. Melchor, Baltasar, and Gaspar (the three wise men, traditional Spanish names for them) rode in splendid costumes and threw candy to the children. (How much closer this is to the Bible than Santa Claus and elves!) Our Spanish church held a traditional Christmas feast—lamb chops and much more, each lady bringing her own special dish.

The season in Spain lasts from Christmas Eve until January 6th (Kings’ Day, Reyes). We enjoy the long season because it isn’t all over on Christmas Day. It gives us more time to think about what God did when He became flesh for us.

Christmas also provides us with a natural opportunity for a gospel witness to the people we know and to the communities around our church. (Several people are in our church today because of Christmas tracts.)

Christmas abroad is nothing like Christmas at home. But it doesn’t have to be.

One Christmas, we visited our son and daughter-in-law, who minister in the tropics. It was so different to see palm trees adorned with lights and to get sunburned while enjoying a Christmas walk together!

The message of Christmas is always the same: God wants to redeem people, so He made a Way. It was the Way that was planned before the earth was formed. (Hebrews 9:26) He planned to let His Son take on the body of a baby, live a sinless life, and be sacrificed for the sins of the world.

Jesus is the message of Christmas.

How can you bring the true meaning of Christmas—Jesus—front and center in your family?

Here are some suggestions. Some will recreate that “fuzzy feeling” of Christmases past for you and your family, and some are to help you keep a Jesus focus.
  1. Decorate. Do whatever you need to with the means you have to make the inside of your home festive. Use garlands or paper chains or ribbons. Hang shiny things and red and green. Use candles. You don’t have to have a tree, necessarily. If it works with your adopted culture, put up a manger scene or two. Let the children help. Decorations make Christmas special.
  2. Bake. I’m certainly no pastry chef. Some of my cutout cookies ended up as unrecognizable. But they smelled good while baking, and they tasted yummy. Especially if you have little children, make cookies. You can make something simple and decorate with colored sugar or sprinkles. Any baking the family does together is memorable. You can make pumpkin (or butternut squash) pies, fruitcakes, or festive fruit breads. Even an apple pie or chocolate cake takes on a new face during the holidays. Our family especially loves cinnamon rolls with icing for Christmas breakfast!
  3. Create family traditions. For some reason, Christmas is tailor-made for traditions. Some that our family enjoyed were: decorating and baking together, an English language missionary-only get-together on Christmas Eve,* reading Luke 2 before opening Christmas stockings on Christmas morning (oranges and walnuts in the stockings, with candy and maybe a little present), opening Christmas presents one at a time after breakfast, turkey and stuffing for Christmas dinner, and lots of Christmas music from the day after Thanksgiving until after Reyes (January 6th). (*For the missionary Christmas Eve, we observed it early in the afternoon. It included music and sacred readings—something from each family—and some funny readings after the more spiritual part. Everyone brought Christmas goodies to share. Later, some of the families would have their Christmas Eve at home. We would go back to our house, get the kids to bed, and bring the gifts out of hiding and put them around the tree for the early morning surprise.)
  4. Read the Christmas story from the Bible. Read Luke 2 and Matthew 1:18-2:23. Passages like Philippians 2:5-11 and John 1:14 take on fresh meaning at Christmastime. If you have small children, help them understand the Christmas story. Teach them to love the Baby Jesus. Tell them how God came to earth. You may want to act out the story, using robes and drapes for costumes and a doll for the Baby. Let them color pages about the Christmas story. Talk with older children about the characters in the Christmas story. (Who was Gabriel? What can we admire about Joseph? What did Mary give up to become the mother of her Savior? Why is Mary’s speech so much like Hannah’s in 1 Samuel 2? Why was the birth of God’s Son first announced to shepherds? Did the angels sing? How old was Anna? How did Simeon know this Baby was the Lord? Who were the wise men? What happened with the star? Why was Herod furious?) Make the Christmas story central to your Christmas celebration. Make sure the Birthday Person is the reason for the party.
  5. Share the gospel. According to 1 Corinthians 15:1-4, the gospel is all about the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. But, without Jesus coming to earth as a human being, without His incarnation, the gospel wouldn’t have been possible. Jesus said, To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice (John 18:37b). People are more receptive to hearing about Jesus at Christmas than at any other time of the year. Be prepared and share Christ this Christmas season. Make sure the whole family gets involved.

Have a truly blessed Christmas, wherever you are!

Photo: Gualberto107


Joyful said...

Great ideas for Christmas wherever you may be. God bless you and your family at Christmas!

Carole said...

Great Post! I love the Spanish tradition! Here in Greenland Christmas is also celebrated until January 6th, and I also am glad for the longer season.