God provided what humanity so desperately needed.
Several years ago my family and I were living in Asia, in a city where more than 95% of the people were NOT Christian. The vast majority of these not-yet-believers were Muslim. It was a difficult place to live for many reasons and challenged us in many ways every single day.
I’ll never forget the Christmas when we invited a not-yet-believing couple and their two children to our house to celebrate Christmas. We had established a friendship with them over the preceding weeks and we felt moved to share this time.
When they arrived at our home they marveled at our Christmas decorations. We showed them our Christmas tree explained some of the traditions surrounding it, even mentioning that in some places people actually cut down a tree in the forest and bring it home!
We sang some silly winter songs like Jingle Bells and Frosty the Snowman (as the temperature in our non-air-conditioned home approached 90 degrees)! We frosted sugar cookies and did all the Christmas stuff.
And, of course, my wife prepared a wonderful turkey dinner for our friends who had never seen or eaten turkey before. Our significant investment in a real turkey may have been misguided, however, as I think they thought it was just a really big chicken!
It was a fun evening with friends.
After a while, though, I asked them if I could take a few moments to share with them why we, as Christians, celebrate Christmas; why is it so important to us?
They excitedly agreed.
Let me pause here and give you a little background. Just a couple of weeks prior to Christmas that year, they had celebrated one of their biggest holidays of the year—a remembrance of the time when Abraham almost sacrificed his son.
To celebrate, people go to their place of worship and all across the city they sacrifice and butcher sheep, goats, and bulls in an attempt to earn God’s favor. It’s very bloody and Old Testament-ish. All of this is done in the courtyard or in the street for everyone to come, observe, and participate.
One time as I stood observing the event I was asked to come and help them butcher a bull. I knew it was a sign of respect and honor that they invited me to join, but I politely refused on that occasion. Shortly after that a bull, seeing what was happening all around him, got increasingly agitated and escaped from the courtyard and went running down the street! Men went chasing after him and half and hour later they finally returned with the bull strapped down in the back of a tiny pickup truck.
It was quite a seen.
Anyway, in their Scriptures, at the end of this story of Abraham, God is said to provide a “great sacrifice,” a replacement that made Abrahams sacrifice of his son unnecessary.
So, as we sat there that Christmas evening with our friends, I told them that…
…we celebrate Christmas because it is the birth of the One—the Messiah, the One sent from God—who would be that “great sacrifice” given not only for Abraham’s son, but for each of us as well. In fact, we believe that Jesus came as a way of salvation for all people, everywhere!
I had never shared the Christmas story in that way before, but I believe the Holy Spirit was leading and that what was shared that night was just what they needed to hear at that time. It wasn’t easy…and I wasn’t sure how they would respond — a blank stare? Politely excusing themselves as they leave? Confused questions? Strong rebuttle?
I was working as an English teacher at this time (it was one of the few ways to live in that city as a Christian foreigner), so this family only knew me as a teacher. When I finished, Ishamel turned to me with moist eyes and said, “You should be a pastor.”
“Yeah, maybe you’re right,” I responded while laughing together with my friend.
Several months later when we unexpectedly had to move from this city, we sat with Ishmael and his family as he thanked us for our friendship, for our love for his family, and recollected specifically what we had shared with them that Christmas evening!
“We still talk about, and think about, what you shared with us,” he said, once again with moist eyes.
I had no words, only a smile of friendship and gratefulness.
I pray this year’s Christmas remembrance is full of deep meaning and heartfelt reflection for you, as you remember what this miraculous birth was all about, what it means for you, and what it means for your loved ones, whether or not they have embraced Christ in their lives.
My prayer is that you might take notice of the still, small voice of the Spirit encouraging you to share your story of how The Story has impacted your life. Look for ways to share the deep meaning of Christmas in simple, easy-to-understand ways that might become the first step, for someone you love, on a journey of grace and transformation.