This year has felt more “Christmassy” than previous years. Partly it’s been because of the preparations for Christmas programs in my own and the Chinese congregation. But another reason is Haifa’s annual “Holiday of Holidays” when Christmas, Hanukkah, and a Muslim holiday (although I’ve never received a conclusive answer for which one) are celebrated. A Christmas tree, Hanukkah menorah and crescent moon light up the roundabout in Haifa’s German colony. Decorations line the street and every restaurant on the boulevard is decorated for a grand party.

Haifa’s Holiday of Holidays

Then, on the 21st, the Ben Gurion Boulevard was shut down for the day… and person-to-person contact was not a desire, but a forced command if you wanted to walk from point A to point B! The street was lined with vendors selling everything from balloons and cotton candy to Christmas ornaments and Santa Claus hats.

There was an element of fun watching it unfolding before me, until I noticed the empty eyes… and overheard a comment from someone later on, how Bethlehem, crowded for taxes, was probably not much different 2,000 years ago. Then, as now, the prosperous had it all, while a carpenter and his wife had to sleep in a cave where the cattle were.

I have friends who raise cattle. They are used to the smell. I doubt though, that it was a scent reminding Mary and Joseph of home. We romanticize the nativity, and clean it up. But the real night was most likely quite different. Yet in the darkness of night, with musky animal smells and dirty shepherds, heaven invaded earth and nothing would ever remain the same.

Jesus Meets Us in Our Squalor

Isn’t that what happens when we allow Jesus our Savior to take over our lives? He doesn’t wait for us to take a bath, put on some perfume, and make ourselves presentable. He is there, offering His friendship, love, and forgiveness in the midst of our squalor. And then – only then, are we changed!

What a wonderful thought to encourage you with this Christmas. Wherever you are, whatever your condition, unto us, unto You, a child is born to bring life and hope eternal.

This morning I wrote a poem as I thought of the wonder of Emmanuel – God with Us! May it encourage you and may Emmanuel be with you, now and always.

Just Like Today

No words
          will ever be enough
in any language
          too short
to touch
          a shadow of You –
Your fullness

Crowded city squalor
          the clang of commerce
          crowds rush blindly
          to fill stomachs
street strewn with broken
          hearts –
          no time to heal
the shattered –
          a kitten’s dying mewl
as vendors vie
for empty-eyed lusts.

Nothing has changed
since that not so
silent night.
Who would hear a baby’s wail
amidst the clatter?
Who to notice a lonely family
in a cave’s murky depths
or long for the scent
of cattle musk?

The romance – that night,
imbued ignorance with yearning –
unbathed shepherds
rushing where angels
in awe tread –

Heaven touched earth
when least expected
just like