Luke 2:17-18 – When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. (NIV)
A few years ago, I found myself in Canada, after ten years in Central America, where I had hoped to remain the rest of my life working with the poor. All was so strange to me that Christmas, as I remembered how it had been there at Christmas in the heat and sun, with palms blowing and dust under foot, compared with how Christmas was celebrated here before I went away.
My family was now grown and away on their own. It was a grief of sorts. I knew of the cultural disparity between the poverty of some and the wealth of others, and of what it really meant to be born in a manager or worse, with nothing to put on the newborn child then or in years to come. It was too much for me to bear, seeing all the gifts under the tree and the luxurious pageantry here, compared to what was so simple there. There, many of the children did not even know of Jesus Christ and His story.
One year I bought 1,200 crosses with string for a necklace and gave them to the children in one community, saying to them in Spanish, "the cross of Jesus" ("la cruz de Jesus") and making the cross on their forehead. I had a line-up of more than 1,200 children in one community come for those crosses, and some naked at about age 8 or 9. When I asked if they knew about Jesus' birthday, they looked at one another. Jesus is a name commonly given to children there, so chatter and excitement ran high as they stood in line and asked each other who this "Jesus" was in their crowd, and was he celebrating that week? How exciting! It was like the game of passing the word around a circle that we had played in Canada. This was the excitement I am sure that all the children felt about the birth of a new child and their celebration each year of the birthday, even without a cake, but maybe with tamales if they were lucky.
I will never forget this, and the opportunity the crosses and the question gave me to tell them a little about baby Jesus as I had over 1,200 children in line. Can you imagine that? Yes, I ran out of crosses, and this was just one small community. Everything looked different to me there. But the story of Christmas is the same and the birth of a child still brings us hope.
Prayer: Lord, open up opportunities where we are today for us to tell once again the real story of Your birth, for so many don't really know what it is. Help us to keep our celebrations simple, and focused on Jesus. In His name, we pray. Amen.