I have traveled thousands of miles to be with my daughter and her family in North Africa for this Christmas season. There is a part of me that hungers for beauty, the fulfillment of a longing I cannot exactly put my finger on. I know that the bonds of love are a huge part of the craving, the desire to share the same air space with those I love, to rekindle memories and craft new ones. Here in a desert land of North Africa where Joy to the World is not sung and Peace on Earth/peace in their homes is often not a reality, I watch as my daughter intentionally celebrates both the season and the reason, and I see the grace that spills over to the neighbourhood. As mygrandchildren light the Advent candles I am reminded of the hope, the peace, the love and joy Jesus brings. Around the kitchen table small fingers glue tissue paper to make a lantern light craft. And a song plays in my head, from when my children were crafters at my own kitchen table, One small child in a land of a thousand, one small dream of a Saviour tonight.(Sung by Evie) A knock from the back door announces the neighbour and her thirteen year old daughter's arrival in the midst of glued tissue, and the speaking of light in the darkness ... the flow goes Arabic, and I step back to keep glue on paper. The girl joins in and the head-scarved mother asks the reason for what we are doing. More Arabic explains about the light of the world, and a fourth tissue lantern goes to another home.
This is the land where the homes look like the Bethlehem Christmas card ... and here I am closer to the bread and olive oil world that Jesus entered, than when I am in my snowy homeland ... yet, ninety-five percent of the people here know nothing about the Christmas story. I am delighted to participate in what has become my daughter's annual Share the Christmas Spirit community party. Trying to recreate Christmas baking from her childhood, we browse the church recipe books and laugh .... ingredient lists common in her growing up world, but not here: packaged cake mix, coconut, chocolate chips, marshmallows, oatmeal, glace cherries, brown sugar, molasses, baking soda. How can you not have baking soda? (That and coconut seem to be seasonal here.) We do borrow some from a friend. But I can find sweetened condensed milk and dream about the seven layer Magic Cookie bars. This recipe we improvise with chocolate chips from Canada. The guests may try new ways of baking, but are less likely to try new ways of thinking about life and its meaning.
I realize that on the day of the party (Dec 19), I act more like Martha than Mary, focused on tasks, thinking that the lopsided brownies should not be served, they would not pass the Martha (Stewart) test. To make matters worse I drop the large container of chick pea flour local cookies that a neighbour directed us for a five hour session to make. That's the way the chickpea cookie crumbles and my two year old grand son learns a new word or two, one of them being bummer, the other one he shouldn't know. My daughter remains calm. Many believers back home join to coat the event in prayer, for the right people to come, for wisdom with the games, with her words, above all that God be glorified in this event.The salon room is filled and the surprise hit event of theevening is the crafting of a Christmas ornament. For twenty-five minutes conversation and laughter flow as all ages of women glitter glue and sequin foam ornaments together. The grandmother with the twinkly eyes and the white scarf is delighted her ornament is chosen for one of the prizes. Somehow I get elected as judge, thankfully no one contests the decisions. A short time later, in flawless Arabic my daughter shares her Christmas customs and the meaning of the story. A believer with a guitar accompanies as we sing three carols. The acoustics are wonderful, and somehow the Oh Come Let us Adore Him rings louder as I watch a dear 19 year old who is learning English, sing Christ the Lord. The others listen and applaud each song. Hark the Herald Angels Sing ... born to raise the Sons of earth, born to give them second birth. In that moment of singing I feel connected to the ancient Christmas story and the realization that this is what Christmas is all about—Good News that is for all peoples. Joy and peace fill the room as another candle of hope is lit in the neighbourhood.
The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned. Isaiah 9:2 NIV
Jocelyn blogs about hope in the hard places at her blog site: http://whoistalking.wordpress.com