Night has fallen in the city, but the streets are alive with people. My family and I edge our way along the broken, dirty, downtown sidewalks. Neon lights flash against the dark sky. The smells of fish, squid balls, cigarettes, and exhaust fumes fill the air. Taxis honk their horns, stereos blare, motorcycle engines race, dogs bark, and voices shout to be heard. Above all the noise and confusion, a recorded Christmas carol pipes out from a loudspeaker at the fast food restaurant across the street.
“Silent night, holy night…”
I walk behind my family, in a shepherding sort of way, keeping an eye on our three children as they edge their way through the throng of jostling shoppers and street vendors hawking their wares: sweet pineapples and foul-smelling durian fruit, piles of used clothing, gaudy Christmas decorations, dirty puppies, and numberless graphic DVDs for sale everywhere we look.
“…all is calm, all is bright…”
A disfigured blind beggar clothed in rags holds his hands high in supplication to the crowd, while a legless man sprawls helpless on the roadside nearby, asking for money as well. A professional beggar girl with no shoes and a listless infant resting on her shoulder approaches, rubbing her stomach, hoping for a handout, and a toothless old woman flashes a grin at our son in passing.
“Round yon virgin mother and child, Holy Infant so tender and mild…”
We step carefully around a young barefoot boy lying sound asleep on the cracked cement of the sidewalk, while down the street a tiny girl slumbers in the rough bed of a wooden cart parked along the dusty roadside.
“Sleep in heavenly peace, sleep in heavenly peace.”
It strikes me as utterly incongruent, the words of the resounding carol and the misery on this street where we walk. This place has nothing at all in common with the holy, calm, peaceful birth of Christ!
Then a sudden awareness floods my mind and shocks me to my core. In actuality, this city street is a whole lot more like the world Jesus was born into than any place I have ever lived before. It is smelly. Dirty. Loud. Broken. Needy. The disfigured beggars and homeless children and poor venders more closely resemble the people Jesus came to live among than anyone I have ever previously known. All my life I have sung this carol in quiet, reverent tones, in spotless, beautiful places—and the advent of the baby Jesus had become in my subconscious mind a sweet, poetic event surrounded by gentle, lovely drama.
Now, being in foreign missions, I have the privilege of living in a culture a whole lot more like the one where Jesus lived; in a culture that is more distinctly aware of its need for Him. I reside among people who truly know what it is to live in constant dependence on His provision. It is a culture largely stripped of pretense, poise, or polish. Here, in this same street filled with broken humanity, I hear the strains of the carol, unashamedly heralding the only true and lasting joy:
“Christ the Savior is born, Christ the Savior is born!”
After all, this is exactly who I am without Him: broken, needy, filthy with sin, in desperate need of the ultimate gift of Christmas…the “dawn of redeeming grace—Jesus, Lord at Thy birth!”
© 2012 Women of the Harvest.
Question to Consider: How has your experience in other cultures helped you better understand the world into which Jesus was born?