We got up early on Christmas morning to travel with our neighbors to their cattle post. There, because it was a very special occasion, we helped them slaughter a goat; the main course for Christmas dinner. Instead of a pine Christmas tree filling the living room with that wonderful aroma, we made our Christmas tree by tracing our hands on green paper, cutting them out and taping them to the wall in an evergreen tree pattern.
We waited until nearly 4PM, after the heat of the day had passed, before gathering for Christmas dinner. We ate outdoors in a shady, sandy area of our yard, with potato salad and watermelon complementing the main course of goat. Fresh, free range goat isn’t as tasty as you might hope. It’s cut into big chunks and boiled in salty water for about four hours. When finished, the pieces are not very meaty and have a pungent odor and taste that can sometimes stay with you for a few days.
Our children couldn’t get enthusiastic about eating goat… but made up for it by consuming large quantities of delicious donut-like “fat cakes” a neighbor mom made and brought to the celebration.
Many people here spend Christmas at their home village, preparing food and celebrating. They go to the village gathering spot, dressed in their very best, dance and watch traditional dances and choir competitions. No football, no pie, no TV, no stuffing, no after Christmas bargain shopping.
It was so different during that Christmas of 2009. My family had moved to the rural Kalahari Desert village of Kang, Botswana, where I served with the Shekgalagari translation team. I never realized how much being a northern hemisphere Christian influenced my Christmas feelings. I never realized how much I expected Santa and snowmen as much as Jesus and a manger. I never expected that the sun staying up until 9:30 on Christmas Eve would take some of the ‘holiness’ out of the Silent Night.
But in it all one thing really came through to me. You strip all that other stuff away and the historical fact remains. God became man. Jesus was born of a virgin in a small Middle Eastern village some 2,000 years ago. His arrival in world history irrevocably altered the course of the universe and all within it. He made it possible for all of us to be reconciled to God.
With so many things different and so many familiar things missing from our celebration of Christmas that year, that fact become more prominent and clearer to me. You can take away all the stuff of Christmas, which is good and salutary for our celebrations and faith—but take them all away and you still have Jesus. You still have the incarnation.
Jesus came to walk among the human race in a place very different than the glory of heaven. He gave up His glory to lead us to God. Only in being completely removed from all that I had found familiar and in striving to become incarnate in another place and another culture could I really focus on the gift of Christmas. God became man in Jesus Christ. We have the privilege to share that Good News with hundreds of thousands of people who otherwise might never know.
That is the greatest gift of all.