Home for Christmas

A recent acquaintance here in Delhi asked me the other day if we were planning to go home for Christmas. I wasn't sure how to answer him.

In some ways, of course, Canada will always be home for me. It's where I'm from, and where most of my family still resides. And I love being with my extended family at Christmas time, although I also really enjoy being away from "home" during this season. This is our sixth consecutive Christmas in India as a family, and so in many ways, especially for our kids, it is home. Amy and I also spent another Christmas here when we were on a trip back in 2001. A couple years before that we were in Guatemala for the holidays, and before that in Hawaii. So, being home for Christmas is apparently not such a big deal for me.

Maybe being away at Christmas time helps me distance myself from the shallow commercialism and general busyness that has come to characterize this season, especially in the West. Maybe it helps me re-connect with some of the simple meaning of Christmas. After all, Mary and Joseph were away from their usual home in Nazareth when they travelled down to Bethlehem. That phase in their life was filled with instability and uncertainty, which is a pretty good place for God to show up and do his thing. And don't forget that Jesus was born in very humble surroundings - in a barn with animals - which may say to us that God isn’t impressed with our fascination with material wealth and physical comforts. Also, the first people that visited Baby Jesus were common shepherds in the field. They were perhaps the most at home on the occasion of the first Christmas. But their presence reminds us that God doesn’t necessarily follow our rules of classifying people as important and unimportant. We are all important, especially to God.

This Christmas, I've also thought more about the other group of travelers who are noted for visiting Jesus. They were the Wise Men from the East, sometimes called the Three Kings. Although they sound very important, the Bible actually tells us very little about them, in terms of who they were, where they were from, and even when exactly they visited Bethlehem. In fact, it doesn't even mention specifically that there were three of them. It does say, however, that these men came from the East and that they followed a star to the place where Jesus was born. And when they found him, they gave him gifts and bowed down to worship him.

There’s been a lot of speculation, over the years, about who these wise men were. Some people even think that they were from India. We know that they studied the stars. We know that they were interested in what was going on in Israel. But this part of the story has always intrigued people. To me, it says something simple about Jesus and his appeal beyond Israel. Even though Jesus came from Israel, the Bible makes it clear that it was never God’s intention that he just be Israel’s Savior. In the visit of the Wise Men from the East, the nations came to celebrate the birth of Jesus. He was honored as the King of the Jews but worshiped as the King of Kings.

From our vantage point in India, it's good to be reminded that Jesus came for the salvation of all humanity, not just for Israel and not just for today's Christian West. There's something international and even universal about Christmas. The major message of Jesus’ life and his death on the cross is that we can be forgiven. Forgiveness before God is something all of us are in need of. It's why Jesus came. It's what Christmas is all about.

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