The red velvet suit with white fur trimming looks a bit odd in the 90 degree heat. Palm trees and a fake Frasier Fir with Christmas lights stand side by side with images of Santa Claus jovially wishing us a Feliz Navidad. It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas – even in Latin America.
With the American economy in its present condition, the experts are telling us it may be a lean season this year. But, everything is relative. Kevin Arthur, Terry Ward and I just spent 3 days in Nicaragua exploring potential mission opportunities for our church. There, we visited a place called, “The Dump.” It is exactly what its name suggests – a literal landfill with the putrid odor of excrement, rotting rubbish and choking smoke from perpetually smoldering plastic debris. Thousands live in this hellish place where children rummage through heaps of trash for 12 hours a day hoping to find something to help them survive. In another spot we visited, 10X15 feet huts where 15 people live are made of pieced together scraps of corroded tin, wood, cardboard and barbed wire. Even the poorest Americans might be considered rich by these standards.
But, Christmas is coming to “the dump” too. They will not have the excess we do. Most won’t have any extra at all. It is a hard life, but the people won’t be depressed if they can’t afford the newest gadgets this year. They have bigger issues to think about.
The truth is that even the children in the dump, who have tougher lives than most American adults I know, are very resilient. They don’t know what they don’t have. They seem to seize whatever happiness they can out of this situation, and despite the hardships, find time, by the grace of God, just to be kids. Maybe it’s merciful that they don’t know what they are missing.
Even with all our abundance, we don’t know what we’re missing either. The meaning of Christmas sometimes gets overshadowed by the tinsel and lights, the food and the gifts. We decorate with lights because Jesus is the light of the world. We put an evergreen tree in our living rooms because He is the source of eternal life. We feast because we have been given the Bread of Life, which satisfies the deepest hunger of our souls. We give gifts because He gave the greatest gift imaginable!
People celebrate Christmas differently. They have different traditions, different expectations. But, wherever they are – whether in “the dump” of Nicaragua or in North Hills Mall of Raleigh, they really have the same need. People need Jesus. People need to know the Lord of Life. People need His unspeakable gift. People need the Light of the world. Christmas is not just about a baby in a manger. It is about God invading our world, driving back darkness and redeeming the lost. When baby Jesus took his first steps, they were the first steps down the path leading to the cross.
This Christmas, my prayer for you is that you will see past all the seasonal hype to the Lord of Glory, for whom dwelling in human flesh must have seemed a little out of place – like a trip to the dump to see Santa Claus beside a palm tree.