Refugees’ Woodcut, by Solomon Raj

Christmas is not nice

Imagine, you, along with your family, went to a most-awaited Christmas pageant at a large cathedral in the city. The nativity musical, along with the hundred voice choir performance was spectacular and so heavenly. The whole experience with its decorations, lighting, and music seemed all so magical and almost perfect. You were mesmerized by the presentations and can hardly wait to update your Instagram with your selfies at the pageant. ‘Tis the time to be jolly,’ isn’t it? You were so glad that you made it for the show and managed to get the tickets a month in advance. As the show came to an end, you began moving out to the parking lot where you parked your car. Since this was a special event and a large crowd gathered, you could only get a parking spot in the overflow parking facility, which was a few meters away from the cathedral.

As you reached your car after passing through a narrow dusty passage, you heard a woman groaning and the cry of a baby coming from a small single-roomed house next to you. It looks like a janitor or someone, living with his family. Out of curiosity, you went to check what’s happening. You found out that this janitor’s family is helping a young girl deliver her baby just in their veranda. Not sure why they were here. The girl looked like she was in her late teens, with a young man beside her who maybe her friend or husband, who also looked quite helpless. You, too, felt helpless seeing the situation wondering why they could not get to any hospital in time. At first you thought it is a runaway teen pregnancy case which you don’t want to get involved. But anyway, you tried to do your best to offer some help and ran to get a few things needed by them, from the nearby medical store.

The janitor’s wife managed to clean the baby, wrap him in some clothes, and help the girl rest on a bed that they put on the floor. As their single-room home did not have enough space, they had cleared some cleaning equipment in the veranda to make some room. The smell there was a bit musty. A few street dogs were roaming around, while cars in the parking lot were slowly leaving the place, and the busy downtown traffic sound was humming in the background. The city seemed to move on as usual with shopping and celebrations everywhere. Here the couple didn’t look like homeless people, but it seemed they just reached the city by train and could not reach their destination earlier. Since the young mother could not walk anymore, they just stopped by this house. You asked the new father if you can call an ambulance or take them to a nearby hospital. But you came to know that their cousin who lives in the suburbs, is on his way to pick them. You did not expect your evening would turn out like this after that Christmas pageant. You hoped that their cousin would arrive soon and pick them, so that the mother and child could comfortably sleep that night, in spite of all that has happened.

You said goodbye and left for home. Your dinner plans were messed up, but you did not mind. While driving back, there was not much talk in the car. Everyone was thinking about the incident. You were wondering, what a contrast — a spectacular show and then this unexpected incident! While trying to think about what just happened, a sudden thought shook you completely. You pulled the car off the road, perplexed, as it dawned on you that what you just witnessed at the parking lot resembled the real Christmas that was written in the gospels of Matthew and Luke. That’s why probably you felt something more real at the parking lot incident than at the Christmas pageant. Perhaps, God comes right near to us amid our broken, messy lives rather than in a grand event.

Rocking the baby’ by Sister Genevieve, 1978

Probably, God comes right near to us in the midst of our broken, messy lives.

Two thousand years ago, a teenage girl, Mary, had to deliver her baby during their journey, in a messy stable at night. As if that is not enough, Mary conceived a child outside her marriage, which is scandalous, those days. To top that, it seems she, being a virgin, was conceived by the Holy Spirit, which is even more questionable. The trouble and shame this couple has gone through are not what we wish for anyone. The first Christmas was not nice, but surely a good one.

When Jesus was born, the wise men from the east came searching for Jesus to worship him by following the star, but sadly they went to King Herod to ask where they can find him. When Herod heard this, he was angry about this new king Jesus the wise men were looking for. He was so mad that he killed all the male children under two years in and around Bethlehem so that this king, which the wise men were referring to, is dead. There was weeping heard all around Bethlehem. Probably over a hundred children would have been killed that night. By any stretch of the imagination, this narrative of the birth of Jesus is neither nice nor pretty. There was trouble everywhere, even in the holy family. Joseph and Mary had to take Jesus and flee to Egypt after being told by an angel.

Why didn’t the grand Christmas pageant at the cathedral did not resemble anything to what happened at the parking lot? Why are our Christmas festivities seem to be all sanitized, extravagant, and pretty? Our public spaces, churches, homes all decked up with nicely lit Christmas trees, Santa Claus, reindeers, snowman, and even snow, which you don’t see in most of India. Jesus, the king, was born in a stable, cave, or in someone’s home. It was a dirty place without fresh air or water. He was born to insignificant parents under the shadow of the powerful emperor Caesar Augustus and Herod the Great, who is known for his extravagant life, wealth, and power. Are we seeking Jesus in a palace when he is born in a lowly place for a lowly couple? Have we not sanitized the truth to a fairy tale?

Real Christmas is not found in sanitized, extravagant, and self-centered festivities like the ones we learned from the West. Real Christmas is when God comes to us to live among us right amid our weakness, hopelessness, fear, sorrow, shame, loss, brokenness, sickness, injustice, etc. Irrespective of our backgrounds or cultures, he wants to give himself to us if we seek to worship him.

I don’t mean to say that we should not have fun, the bells, and whistles. We all need to celebrate together in goodwill. Sharing a meal, gifting, singing, dancing, and even playing Secret Santa is lovely. However, the point is, our lives, and our world today isn’t any better, it is messy, but that doesn't matter to God.

The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God… And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.[John 1:9–14]

I asked my friend Bhaskar who came to know Jesus from a Hindu tradition as to how he sees Christmas. He mentioned, “We celebrate Christmas with much delight and fanfare that we fail to realize that the events surrounding the first Christmas were quite different. No choirs singing, no colorful lights, no drapes, and decorations, but just God intervening in the lives of mere mortals. For me, Christmas is not merely celebrating the fact that Jesus came, but also remembering how he came and why he came.

No matter where you are in the season of your life, however exciting or hopeless, if you ask Jesus to come, you can genuinely experience his presence. Maybe you were recently promoted, just married your sweetheart, or in the hospital taking care of someone. Perhaps you lost a loved one, or job, or struggling with the pain of rejection, humiliation, or even in fear of losing your life. Maybe you lost purpose to live. Allow him to come to where you are, like how Mary and Joseph did. Our lives matter to God, who became one of us.

“Though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God, a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” [Philippians 2:6–7]

If God has emptied himself and become one among us to give us hope, can we empty ourselves and take this hope to someone else’s life? — especially for an orphan, a widow, a refugee, the marginalized, the poor, the weak, and the sick. May we experience his simple presence, unchanging love and affirming hope in spite of what is happening in our life this season. Merry Christmas.

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Mark Raja

Mark Raja

Product designer, Systems thinker, Creative catalyst, Amateur writer, Father, Husband