Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Happy Christmas!

Its Christmas morning, and I sit on the swing of our veranda, looking out over the valley gardens with my dog’s nose pressed into my lap. Clouds swath the valley mountains with meters and meters of tulle until the sky turns gray behind the blooming fields. But in Papua New Guinea, clouds can’t block the sun, and I and the banana leaves turn our faces to its warmth.

How do you celebrate Christmas there? I’m asked, over and over again in curious emails, wanting to compare my PNG life with their own traditions.

It’s different here. Its spring, and trees stand awash in purple flowers while rose vines garland our houses—not a snowflake in sight! In Ukarumpa, we pluck our Christmas tree from our backyards (never mind a true spruce…this papaya tree will do), and sit on a veranda in our sundresses, sipping orange juice at Christmas brunch. We sing out “Happy Christmas!” to those walking by and perhaps grab an inner tube to go float down the Ba’e river. I sing carols in Dutch, Korean, Tok Pisin, Finnish, and English, and have Christmas dinners harking from Germany and Poland. I carry gifts in a bilum (string bag) on my head to the family that invited me for Christmas dinner and watch children unrelated to me by blood happily rip off paper (carefully saved from last year) and marvel at their gifts (which were originally presented to me). I skype with my family, open postage-stamped packages sent months ago, and compare whether Christmas colors are the same across cultures.

It’s the same here. As I sit on our hard-backed benches and watch the last Advent candle flicker into hope, I breathe a prayer of thanks for the church calendar. Although there is a 16 hour difference between here and my frozen home (I look at my watch and try to count back the hours, try to imagine what my family might be doing as night falls on their Christmas eve…), I know that churches around the world have set aside December 25th as a day of remembrance. And so, as we sing and worship and say blessings of peace upon one another, I join in with 2000 years of tradition, celebrating Christmas as part of the international body of Christ. Across the continents, from the hidden bedroom to the overflowing cathedral, voices lift up in song and bow in prayer, together rejoicing in the glorious incredibility that we are not alone.

But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. (Luke 2:10-11)

It’s because of this sameness that I am able to ponder this difference, learn to treasure it, and look across it with understanding. Because, difference is not always comfortable and distance from familiarity is not necessarily painless. I can’t imagine it was easy for the parents of a young, heavily pregnant girl to let her travel the dusty, arduous journey with her new husband, knowing that it may be years before they would ever see their grandchild. I can’t believe this new mother desired to birth her baby without family nearby, and to do so in a place that was so different from her beloved home. In the same way, it’s not always easy for my family to set one less place for Christmas dinner, or for me to sit on my veranda, face to the east, watching the sun rise from its bed beyond the Pacific Ocean while setting over America.

But they let Mary go, trusting her to the Lord, and she went, knowing that He would keep His promise. And my family has let me go, because of the Man who sprung from that promise, and I have gone, because there are still places in Papua New Guinea where the joy of His coming that we as the church celebrate so fervently and constantly across thousands of miles and years remains unknown.

Different? Yes. But not so much as it is the same… in the way that praise of Christians will echo continuously from now until eternity from every language and culture, just as John describes:

After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb… And they cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” (John 7:10-11)

Now, that's a reason to shout, Happy Christmas!

Happy Christmas from all of us--we are delighted to be able to share Christmas with you!