In Taiwan, Christmas is something of a non-event. Most people will be working all day. I miss the festivities of Christmas--the lighted streets, the Christmas carols in the shops, wrapped presents under a tree, and the general merriment. I grew up on the farm, and Christmas was a time when the work slowed down, when the snow and cold forced everyone indoors. If I had my way, the Christmas tree would go up a week before Thanksgiving and come down the week before Easter. My wife likes Christmas, but isn't quite so enthusiastic about my desire for the tree being up so long. So someday when I'm not looking, the tree comes down in mid-February. If I could, it would be "always Christmas"--to quote one of the characters in Lewis' Narnia series.
But amidst the portrayals of warm, attractive fireplaces in the winter, beautifully wrapped presents, and Jesus being born (according to the portrayal in many greeting cards) in what appears like a comfy stable, back lit with studio lights, there is a dark side. In reality, Christmas was quite ugly. That's because I Timothy 1:15 says, "Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance. Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners--of whom I am the worst." One of the most popular songs is "White Christmas", but the song belies the darkness of the meaning of Christmas.
We should meditate deeply on a dark, cold night in a small nondescript village in Palestine where a lovely young woman gave birth to a a baby in the most unsanitary, wretched conditions imaginable, standing in the filth and manure of a stable. The little cloths wrapped around his body would have had the stench of animals, of fires burning to keep people warm. It was a filthy place of pain, blood, cold, manure, straw and odors. Why? Because the Bible said he came down to the stench of our own sins to bear them away on a cross 33 years later.
It also reminded me of the death of Ronny Smith who had been one of the pastors at the Austin City Stone Church where my daughter Katie and her husband attend. He had gone to Benghazi out of his love for Christ and the Libyans. One of his students Yomna Zentan, an 18-year old student attending the Libyan-owned school, told reporters that he was "more like a best friend or a family member", adding; "After everything that happened in Libya, we were losing hope and he was the only one who was supporting us, motivating us, telling us that as long as we studied--everything could be okay. He was the silver lining. He dedicated so much of his time for all his students." When he was gunned down while jogging by militants, he was a sobering reminder of the ugliness of Christmas. Happily, Jesus came to take away the sin of the world. Someday, it will all be gone. May we all think on these things and invite our friends to the services because Christmas is truly ugly and beautiful at the same time.