Note: The following piece was reworked from a piece that I wrote a few years ago.
There is no Christmas tree and no turkey. We have not heard “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” one time since arriving and our gifts fit inside small stockings. Our world is stripped of some of the traps that catch me at Christmas time in the West, where slick advertising tempts all my senses with color, slogan and promise, where androgynous mannequins sparkle with scarves and sweaters, silently persuading me that I need what they have.
With this stripping comes a delightful freedom and joy. Joy in cooking over a tiny three burner gas stove with my children and substituting ingredients to mimic familiar tastes; freedom to not put pressure on each other or on the day to be something it can’t be. Tahrir Square is but a block away from where we are preparing our Christmas feast and we are acutely aware of the struggles of many just minutes from our festivities. This is Christmas in Cairo.
At a late night service on Christmas eve we sang Christmas carols in Arabic and English side by side with refugees from the Horn of Africa, Egyptian Christians, and expatriates from around the world. My senses feel alive with the joy of being here and fully present. I am in a land that has been used by God for centuries to protect, provide, and test. Here I have to wrestle with the words of Christmas carols instead of blithely singing them. Here as I read the words “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of peace” I ache with longing that people may know how much God loves them, that they will respond to the lover of their souls, the One who is Truth.
As I look out over this city, I think of the hope that is personified in the birth of a small baby, helpless and fragile, yet history cannot keep silent of the joy that came that night. As night falls and I view the scenes around me from high balconies I am reminded of the beautiful words that speak to that holy night, where a “weary world rejoiced” and woke to the miracle of a “new and glorious morn.”
Our world is weary; weary of tragedy and loss; weary of natural disasters and wars. Our world is weary of the stress of living and the sadness of dying.
I don’t know where you are this season. You may be in a place far removed from the snow and Christmas memories of your childhood. You may be struggling to create Christmas treats from ingredients that you don’t understand on appliances that you don’t know how to use. You may have collapsed in tears because of loneliness and discouragement, or you may be fully connected and adjusted to the world where you find yourself.
If you are weary this Christmas season, if you are face to face with tragedy and death, with the broken bones of a weary world; if there have been too many diapers to change and too many disappointments to count, if you are life-tired and soul-weary, know that you are welcomed into the arms of God.* And wherever you are, may you know the thrill of hope, may your weary world rejoice, and may you wake to a new and glorious morn.
It is the night of our dear Savior’s birth
Long lay the world in sin and error pining
Til He appeared and the soul felt it’s worth
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn
Fall on your knees
O night divine!
O night when Christ was born