Christmas in a Foreign Land

by Esther Greenfield

There’s something special about Christmas in a foreign land.

It’s not that I don’t wish for snow… or for a day cool enough to snuggle under a blanket… or at least for a moment to stop sweating. Of course I miss the nostalgic scents and sentiments from holidays past. And I even struggle with sadness, longing to be “home for Christmas” (wherever home is).

But there’s still something special.

After all, the first Christmas was also an un-cozy, far-from-home, not-so-white Christmas.

There was no holiday atmosphere to welcome Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem after their long dusty journey — no cards or candles or cookies, not even tidings of comfort and joy. If by chance there was snowfall, it was another hardship, not a wish come true.

Instead, there was an overcrowded town with no decent place to deliver a baby. There was a smelly spare room filled with animals and the stuff they tend to leave behind. There was exhaustion and discomfort and sweat.

And there was God.

Doesn’t it feel incongruent? The Holy One, master of the universe, endless in power and glory — reduced to a blood-covered baby placed in a feed trough? It just doesn’t make sense.

But maybe that’s because the real story of Christmas so often gets baked into cookies or covered in lights or stuffed in stockings. It gets hidden among holiday to-do lists and under piles of Hallmark cards.

And as beautiful as our holiday traditions can be, they have a dangerous tendency to speak too loudly, to distract us from the message God is whispering.

But these not-so-white, un-cozy, far-from-home Christmases force us to look deeper, to sweep away the paper and ribbons, and gaze at the story in its most basic form:

Christ. In the dark. With us.

After all, if the peace of God required snowflakes and candlelight, we’d all be in big trouble. If his presence demanded an uncluttered environment, which of us could invite him in? If God didn’t fit into our crazy world, what hope would we have?

But God chose to enter here, into the dark, into the dirt, into the depressing reality of real human existence.

And this is really, really good news. Because if God was willing to step into the mess of the manger, there’s good reason to believe he can step into the messiness of my life.

If God’s presence could turn that smelly spare room into something beautiful, he can probably transform me into his beautiful dwelling place too. And maybe, just maybe, he can use me — in the midst of the exhaustion, discomfort, and sweat of my current existence — to share the light of his presence with those around me.

Indeed, there is something special about Christmas in a foreign land:

Christ. In the dark. With us. 



Esther Greenfield was born in the American Midwest, but it was in East Africa that she learned to walk and pray and write poetry. She fell in love with her husband one summer in West Africa, and together they made their home in a North African city, with a passion to disciple the lost through Bible translation and Scripture engagement. Esther’s writings are inspired by her life in Africa and her love for Jesus. She blogs at Pilgrim Poetry.

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A Life Overseas is a collective blog centered around the realities, ethics, spiritual struggles, and strategies of living overseas. Elizabeth Trotter is the editor-in-chief.

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