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So Near, Yet So Far

It is still not too late to simplify your Christmas and reach out to those in whose faces we see the incarnate Christ. By doing this we can all find a way to get nearer to the true meaning of Christmas, and keep the excesses of consumerism and materialism at bay.

We had packed Christmas—presents, English goodies and decorations—into our suitcases and carried them from England. Out of the 20 families on the Moshav, we were the only ones celebrating Christmas. <?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />
What really sticks in my mind about that Christmas is that we were so near (less than 50 miles) to Bethlehem, and yet so far. We wanted to go there to experience Christmas in the place where the Savior was born, but it was not advisable to make the journey. We did manage to tune in to Jordanian television and watch the service, though we could not understand what was being said! 
We were so near, and yet so far. 
This year we have been living with Christmas since just after Halloween, that strange festival that has become so much a part of American culture. The shops have been stocked, the advertisements running, and since Thanksgiving there is a new sale every day, so many that it seems that the post-Christmas sales are already on.  
So we are getting into the Christmas spirit of maxed-out credit cards, an overabundance of things we do not need and often do not want, and a feast of foodstuffs that do us no good. 
With a few more rushed days to Christmas, we could be so near to the real meaning of Christmas, and yet we are often so far. 
Compare that with how so many of our fellow Christians around the world will be celebrating Christmas.

  • In Bethlehem they will be praying to the Prince of Peace, with little hope of real peace.
  • In Malawi, where drought and HIV/AIDS have caused such devastation, people will be wondering where their next meal will come from.
  • In Burundi, Christians will gather to celebrate the recent peace accord between the government and rebels, while worried about recent infractions.
  • In North Korea, people will remain physically hungry because of the lack of food, and spiritually hungry because of the lack of religious freedom.

Yet many of these could possibly be nearer to a true understanding of Christmas than those of us who have so much. It always encourages me when I find that those who have so little, materially speaking, often have so much hope and faith. They seem to be “so far” away from our tinsel town Christmas, and yet “so near” spiritually to understanding and experiencing the Incarnation.  
Thankfully, we do find many Christians and churches trying to balance their Christmas celebrations by reaching out to those in need. Here are just a few of those I have heard about from churches close to me.

  • Leesburg Baptist Church will take a special offering to feed hungry drought victims in Malawi, as well as supporting those in need locally.
  • Young people at Vienna Baptist Church have shopped for homeless families, cooked for a men’s shelter in Washington D.C., and will deliver food and Christmas packages to the homeless in one of the nation’s richest counties.
  • Clarence Park Baptist Church held a “frugal lunch” and gave the proceeds to Baptist World Aid’s hunger fund.
  • Ox Hill Baptist Church is buying cows for Liberia and Croatia.

It is still not too late to simplify your Christmas and reach out to those in whose faces we see the incarnate Christ. By doing this we can all find a way to get nearer to the true meaning of Christmas, and keep the excesses of consumerism and materialism at bay. 
At this Christmas time, let’s try to live more simply, so that others might simply live.
Paul Montacute is director of Baptist World Aid, the relief and development arm of the Baptist World Alliance.