Thursday, December 22, 2011

Christmas Culture Shift

I have been on a hiatus from blogging - against my will.  Kind of.

With an increase of busyness, a bad cold, and a dying computer, writing here was put on the back burner...and then wrapped up in Tupperware and put in the fridge.  Thanks to Treavor, I now have a working computer, and some forced rest in order to clear enough room in my head for getting back here!  

Over the past few weeks, I have been thinking on Christmas, as have most of you, undoubtedly.  Treav mentioned that how living here (where Christmas for Thais is simply a pre-cursor to New Year's gift giving...and where lights, Christmas trees and Santa take center stage) has heightened our attention on the meaning of Christmas; rather than taking away from it.  I just started noticing lights going up this week. The stores have tinsel and trees, and at the hi-so grocery store, the Christmas Carols CD is on repeat over the loudspeakers.  But, on the whole, the culture of the "holidays" isn't the blindingly-obvious show that is present in America right now.  We are constantly having to explain that Christmas isn't New Years, it isn't Santa's birthday, and Saint Nick isn't Jesus' dad.  Even a new believer we're pouring into was surprised to hear that Christmas is the day we celebrate the day the Lord was born as a babe in a manger.  She's reading through the Gospels and hasn't yet figured that out.  If you think about it, the word Christmas isn't in the Gospels, right?  If you doubt me, check it out for yourself...

Last week, as I sat in my Thai lesson, my teacher (a believer) talked about what Christmas means for Thai Christians.  She was talking about how they planned their big outreach/meeting/party.  Their plan, which they pour tons of time into in the weeks before now, is simple: sharing.  Sharing what?  Sharing gifts, like us?  Not exactly.  Sharing a special meal with all the trimmings?  No.  As far as I know, Christmas dinners here are like all the others.  She meant, the sharing of the Christmas story, sans reindeer and a big, fat jolly-man dressed in red...they keep it simple - on Jesus.  And, they don't do it alone, with their own family units.  They meet in big groups, mostly at the church building.  They hang out all morning and then again at night; eating, worshiping, hearing the word, dancing, crafting, laughing, playing games, exchanging gifts...all in a concentrated effort to share the good news with the unbelievers they have personally invited. Their focus is on everyone else who has never heard.

I remember being irritated with Christmas culture the first year we moved here.  The local church we lived next to invited us to a Christmas service/outreach on the blessed day of the 25th.  What? Sacrifice our family time?  Unheard of!  It was asking too much.  Even though we keep our family's festivities simple, we couldn't imagine spending almost all day with them instead of at home in our pajamas.  

Last year, our second Christmas away, our close friends were away, and we were feeling a little lonely.  The invitation from the local church we worked with was now more welcome.  God sets the lonely in families (Ps. 68:6), which we now know at an even deeper level.  

And this year, we will still have our "sacred" family time on Christmas morn, but we are making plans to visit a new believers' home later in the day to celebrate the newborn King.  It is their first year to know about His love, and we're watching The Nativity Story movie to get a better feel for the mood of the day over 2000 years ago.  That first Christmas day was so different that what we witness year after year.  We're wanting to keep it simple for this family who is changing their whole paradigm on life to be focused on a heavenly kingdom.  Also, we're visiting a local AIDS orphanage for the first time.  We are hoping that our family will get a greater, softer heart for sharing the love that Jesus has given us in exchange for our hard hearts that tend to be self-focused at this time of year.

How are you shifting your focus this year?  Even with all the lovelies of the holiday season, how do you keep your eyes fixed on the Child who's birthday we celebrate?  Feel free to comment below:

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