Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Finding Christmas (I Want My Culture)

My friend, neighbor during language school, and fellow Tanzania-teammate from the States Robin Gregory recently posted this on FaceBook, and it really captured how I feel each year at Christmastime in Tanzania. Just wanted to share her words with you!

I used to love Christmas. The entire season filled me with wonder anew as the snowflakes fell, and the music played, and the decorating ensued as the Grinch’s heart grew three sizes on my T.V. screen. He must have been able to smell the cookies in my oven. Never mind how warm it would have been where Christ was actually born; to me, Christmas has always been encapsulated in a Midwestern snow globe. I don’t particularly care for winter in general, with all it’s cold and slippery shenanigans. But at Christmas, it’s all okay. As it should be. And I’ve never really been able to consider one without the other. Not even at the church Christmas program. Not even when Linus tells us the real meaning of Christmas. No, not even then. I had no idea what a product of my culture I’ve become.

Now here I am, in Africa.

It’s December, and I am waiting. Waiting for the feelings of Christmas and the thoughts of sugarplums to start dancing in my head. Come on, I don’t need a ballet; I’ll settle for a little two-step. How about just swaying from side to side? Waiting. Maybe if I say it out loud, “It’s Christmas!”. Nothing. Why couldn’t Disney have made a Lion King Christmas special? That would have helped me bridge my two worlds. I could write it. Simba would tire of the riff between the good lions and Scar, and would come to him with a peace offering of roast-wildebeeste, and Scar’s heart would grow and then a furry giraffe would stand on tiptoe and hang a silver star on the tallest baobab tree, and a bell would ring and a little warthog named Tiny Tim wouldn’t jump off the bridge at all, but turn into an angel and take flight,as sure as Kilimanjaro rises like Olympus above the Serengeti. Oh wait, that’s not right. Never mind. No Olympus, unless it’s an ‘80s Lion King Christmas special, with Toto, too. Now that would be really cool.

Okay, what was I talking about?

Oh, yeah. It doesn’t feel like Christmas, and I don’t know how that could happen. I’m thinking, “this isn’t how Christmas is supposed to be.”

Huh. I bet that’s what Mary and Joseph thought. I bet it was so not what they expected. What anyone expected. A Deliverer; a new King, that’s gonna have to be someone pretty spectacular, and he’s gonna come in here in all his wrappings and save us all. We just need to stay out of his way and cheer from the sidelines. That’s how it’s always been with deliverers and kings. If he comes any other way, it just won’t feel right.

But then He came. And everything everyone ever thought about how he would come had to change. He wasn’t big and strong; he wasn’t a warrior. He didn’t ride in on a float in the parade. He came without lights. Well, okay, he had a light. But he came without swords. He came without tags. He came without chariots, boxes, or bags. But he came. He came, just the same.

It doesn’t seem like Christmas. But it is. I don’t see it. I don’t hear it. But deep down in my overheated, culture-driven, Midwestern heart, I know that Love has come. He’s not wearing a parka and carrying jingle bells, but he’s not wearing sunglasses and carrying bug repellent, either. He’s wearing the weight of a broken world and he’s bringing the light that shines in the darkness. And Jesus, I promise you I will welcome you. I will come thirsty to the well in the heat of the day, and I will find you in this crazy mixture of culture that I find myself in. And I will celebrate you.

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