|Christmas was nowhere to be seen.|
by Danetta Kellar
I needed sweet potatoes for a special Christmas recipe that I wanted to make for my family. It was Christmas Eve and we were very far from home. I made my way out of the ancient, walled part of the city where we lived and wound up the narrow, curving road which clung precariously to the towering hill. My small car joined a throng of little taxis, dusty vans, donkeys, and people on foot. The sounds of one of my favorite Christmas carols rose in my ears as I turned up the volume on my CD player.
O come, O come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel, who mourns in lonely exile here, until the Son of God appear.
The Jewish quarter rose to my right, its shops spilling forth spices, furniture, linens, and colorful shoes onto the busy streets. Built beside the King’s palace, this old section of town had been a safe refuge for the many Jews running for their lives in centuries past. Jews and Muslims, living side by side in peace.
The new city came into sight ahead, with its modern buildings a stark contrast to the ancient stone arches and massive gates of the old one just moments behind me.
Men, women, and children mulled about on the streets, oblivious to the season so dear to me and my family.
Women with veiled faces shushed unruly children while robed men stood in clusters discussing important matters with serious faces and bent heads. Young boys rushed past with handmade baskets perched atop their heads, filled with noisy, flapping chickens. The poor with withered hands and feet sat by the road begging for alms. Old women crept along the paved sidewalks with stooped shoulders, bearing heavy burdens.
O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer, our spirits by Thine advent here. Disperse the gloomy clouds of night. And death’s dark shadows put to flight…
My spirit soared with the music as my heart crushed under the weight of the loss I was observing through my car windows. Just outside. A mere touch away. Passing my line of vision like a surreal movie clip, people walked unknowing, unaware, utterly, completely, lost. Oblivious to the coming of a Savior.
Christmas was nowhere to be seen.
No lights hung on these streets. No trees in the store windows hailing the season. No gifts wrapped in bright shiny paper. Nothing but life moving onward, marching incessantly toward the insignificant, the mundane, the dullness of life with no rescue in sight.
O come, Thou key of David, come, and open wide our heavenly home; make safe the way that leads on high, and close the path to misery…
I wanted to stand on the roof of my car in the midst of the throngs and shout, “He has come! Your Hope, your Rescuer, the One who bears your burdens! He has come! Let us celebrate!”
Many have asked us if living in a land where Christmas is so absent made our celebration very difficult. The truth is, with all the wrappings stripped away, Christ rose shining and glorious to the epicenter of our Christmases in that land. With nothing else competing for our energy, our time, our focus, He became the simple, magnificent Center. We could see Him clearly there, against a backdrop of such absence.
Years have passed since that drive through the city of no Christmas.
We live near our loved ones now, snugly tucked into the suburbia of America. This year, the local holiday lights went up the week before Thanksgiving. I never forget to be thankful for them. They always bring me delight.
The Christmas songs have begun on the radio, in the stores. Even in the car lots. I love to sing along with every one, and I do not get tired of them even after a month.
People are busy planning and shopping, celebrating, and gathering. Christmas is indeed present among us, this first week of December.
I am still looking for Jesus in the melee.
I am casting about, searching for that bright, clear face of Hope and Rescue I saw so starkly against the backdrop of the lost, to the words of O Come, O Come Emmanuel years ago. I feel a bit anxious, worried, as if I have lost something and cannot quite find it.
I see Christmas. It is everywhere around me already this year.
But where is Emmanuel, God with us?
Is He in the face of the homeless man I shared hot chocolate with last week outside the train station?
Is He just over the shoulder of the Muslim woman I met in Ikea recently as she curiously examined a box of Christmas ornaments?
Is Christ in my home, in the midst of the comings and goings of busy children, friends, and family, gathered around good food and laughter?
Most of all, can Christ be seen in me this Christmas? Can others find Him in me? Or do they see only the shuffle and noise I make as I rush around distracted and busy, worry-planning our holiday season?
I hope you will join me this Advent as I search carefully and intentionally for Him. Share with me how you have found Him in the midst of the joyful noise of Christmastime.