O Holy Night

by Tara Livesay on December 13, 2013


Every direction you turn, images of Christmas are evident.You need not look far to find beautiful and thoughtful displays, tastefully decorated homes with glowing trees, and rows and rows of symmetrical twinkling lights. Step into one of these homes and the warm fire will greet you as you breathe in fresh scents of pine and cinnamon. It is beautiful and clean and so.very.pristine. 

Looking upon these exquisite arrangements one senses order and peace.

O Holy Night
In contrast I’m reflecting on the untidy disorder and chaos in the lives of so many celebrating Christmas around the world this year. They experience vastly different surroundings and a much more simplified version of the annual celebration of the Christ child. It looks nothing like the photos in the magazines and has not even the tiniest hint of Martha Stewart. There are no smells of fresh-baked cookies or apple cider to entice them. They don’t string lights around a tree, pile colorfully wrapped gifts high, or build gingerbread houses; yet meek and mild – they celebrate.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,’Til He appear’d and the soul felt its worth

How did our celebration of this day become so clean and crisp? Where are the smells and  sweat and tears that were most certainly a part of Mary and Joseph’s journey?

It begs the question:  Do ‘Better Homes and Gardens’ scenes with sparkling lights and gorgeous decorations reflect the Christmas story best? Are the experiences of a frightened and ashamed teenage mother-to-be anything like that?

Do the marginalized and suffering in our world experience Christmas more like Mary and Joseph did – or do we?

A thrill of hope – the weary world rejoices

I’m reflecting on these two extremes.  I love the exquisitely ordered and the beautifully arranged. I close my eyes and picture that sort of beauty in our Heavenly home.

While yonder breaks a new and glorious morn
I long for a day when disparity and injustice ends. I dream of a Christmas were no child is enslaved, abused, and sold. I pray for the glorious morn, where the oppressed are free. I long to wake up to learn that no child is suffering or slowly starving to death. I dream of a day when people from every continent and every nation celebrate Jesus and His birth surrounded by love, joy, dancing, singing and immeasurable peace and beauty and justice.
Truly He taught us to love one another; His law is love and His gospel is peace
Truthfully I also find great inspiration in the simple, dingy, gritty, humble celebrations of those who struggle and toil without access to our unstained images of Christmas. I long for their stripped down total dependence on God. I pray for spiritual wealth like that of the materially poor. I want their depth. I want their undying hope. I want a Christmas less like Oprah’s and more like theirs.
Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother; And in His name all oppression shall cease
Our youngest daughter Lydia has been struggling with choices. When offered a choice of two things she’ll often reply, “I want two ones.”  When she says that, she means I want them both.

As I soak in Christmas this year I find myself wanting two ones.  I want the perfect looking, delicious smelling, pain-free and unpolluted Christmas and I want the dirty, stinky, humble, difficult, but miraculous Christmas that Mary and Joseph and the rich in faith experience.

Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we, Let all within us praise His holy name
While I attempt to reconcile two very different Christmases, the celebrations only make sense to me in the context of good overcoming evil. God coming to earth in the form of His son Jesus, to live a sinless life, to die for us … In His resurrection the promise that one day there will be beauty and justice for all.

The end of death. 
The end of suffering.

O Holy Night
~   ~   ~   ~   ~   ~   ~
The post above is being re-shared, and was originally written in 2010. Thanks for the opportunity  to recycle it.
We struggled with the loss of our known traditions when we moved to Haiti, living in tension between the two experiences took some getting used to. We started a new tradition as a family of making and sharing little Christmas plays each year. We’ve enjoyed making them for seven years now and wanted to share year three with you today. See it HERE.
What about you?  Which Christmas do you most identify with and why?  Did you begin any new traditions when you left your “home”  and couldn’t participate in the old ones?
Tara Livesay works in the area of Maternal Health in Port au Prince, Haiti.
 blog:  livesayhaiti.com  |  twitter (sharing with her better half): @troylivesay
Photo credit: Christmas tree photo favim.com
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About Tara Livesay

Tara and her family have lived in Haiti since 2006. She resides in Port au Prince, where she serves as a CPM (Midwife) with Heartline Ministries - Maternity Center working in the area orphan prevention, Maternal and Newborn Health. Tara is a the wife of Troy, the mother of seven children ranging in age from 27 to 9 years old and has recently become a grandmother to 3 grandsons. Tara enjoys friends, laughing, sarcasm and spending time with her family.
  • Marla Taviano

    My favorite Christmas in the history of the world is the one my family and I spent in Cambodia in 2011, laughing and playing with some precious kiddos. I’ve never felt so close to Jesus, so close to the circumstances into which he was born. We’re hoping, praying, dreaming about spending Christmas 2014 there. In the meantime, we can’t ever go back to Christmas as it used to be. We sold/gave away all our decor, no tree, just a simple (but beautiful) handmade fabric banner that says, “Immanuel.” I enjoy and admire my friends’ decorated homes, but our Christmas hearts are in Cambodia.

  • Stephanie Hough

    “I long for their stripped down total dependence on God. I pray for
    spiritual wealth like that of the materially poor. I want their depth. I
    want their undying hope.” I’ve never been to Haiti (or really outside the States at all). Never experienced poverty in America. Don’t even know what I’m asking for, but yes, I want this too. I love the beauty of the lights and tree in my room right now – it feels like celebrating something holy. But I also want to know what it means to love Jesus, and Jesus alone – I just hope that is possible here. I pray that he meets me even here. I pray that in his great mercy he shows me how to love, really love, here.

  • This is my absolute favorite Christmas hymn. Thanks for helping me see it more deeply.

  • Vicki

    This is really beautiful. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. Our family is preparing for a move to Bangkok, and knowing this is our last Christmas in the U.S. for a while is bringing up a weird mixture of emotions. I am sad to know this is the last time we’ll be with our families for a few years, but there is also this sense of relief that I can’t quite figure out. I’m ready to be away from the commercialism and just strip away all of the extras and enjoy a simplified Christmas.

  • Marilyn Gardner

    Of all the Christmas essays I’ve read, this is my favorite. Taking these words and contrasting them with what I’ve experienced so much of my life at Christmas time in Pakistan and Egypt felt like I was reading holy work. Living between worlds, we live in constant tension. It’s not a bad thing – but sometimes one grows weary. The tension is often most evident at holidays with the contrasts of life so stark. Twinkling lights on trees vs. dank slums where a Christmas feast is eaten on rope beds, hands oily from eating savory rice with our fingers. Yet God is in both. Thank you so much for this piece..

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