The first Christmas didn’t actually happen in Juniata County, and it wasn’t white. This thought just dawned on me a few minutes ago as I watched the sunset behind the palm-trees outside my window. I was folding laundry and listening to a Christmas playlist, and suddenly it seemed incongruous–my attempts to celebrate Christmas coming–when the weather was sunny, and home was far away. Then I suddenly thought about Jesus’ birth, and I must have thought about it before, but Bangladesh made the thought very real. Oh, yes, Jesus was born in the Middle East.
He also died there, for death is as real in the Middle East as it is anywhere else in the world. And it certainly is real in Bangladesh, for my little pink flamingo pet just died. He hung on by a thread until I walked through the door today after work, and then he breathed his last. Truly, it is a cursed world. Creation groans and pink chicks die, but Immanuel was born to be the God Who is with us and walks among us and redeems us. This can be celebrated when one is in Bangladesh as well as when one is nestled in the warm heart of Mennonite country.
And, actually, my Thanksgiving this year may have been as meaningful as any other Thanksgiving I’ve experienced. I will not forget this one the way I’ve forgotten some others. I was so thankful for my oatmeal with bananas, and my coffee, and my quiet morning time with God in the gray dawn. I was thankful for the foggy morning ride to the clinic in the open CNG. I was happy to do dressing changes, and see our little burn patient’s improvement, and give oral saline to the dehydrated little boy who gulped down 4 cups. I had fun handing out chocolate to the staff who don’t know anything about Thanksgiving Day but are still thankful for chocolate. I gave some to the children waiting in the clinic waiting area with their parents. They held it in their hands and looked at me with big, sober eyes until I took it and opened it for them. I was thankful for the laughter that happens every single day with the people I am blessed enough to work with.
And then in the evening the Americans had a legitimate holiday dinner, complete with pumpkin pie. I could have closed my eyes and believed I was in Pennsylvania as that slice of Thanksgiving melted in my mouth. There was comradery and cheer in that circle, with the people I was not friends with three months ago.
We walked home under a shimmering half-moon, and the streets of Ukhia felt almost like home. And then there was the phone call with the person who can reach across the thousands of miles to put a smile on my face, and the knowledge that God is good, and I am blessed… Yes, this Thanksgiving I was grateful beyond words for the gifts that create every single day. This Thanksgiving was very similar to the rest of the days this week, in many ways, and for once I actually took the time to think about just how blessed I am.
In the same way, Christmas will come to Bangladesh. Amidst the palm trees and the sunshine and my new friends, Jesus will be born again in my heart. He is the reason for celebrating. And so, I listen to my Christmas playlist, and I think about the hope of Jesus. So many of my friends here desperately need this hope of Jesus’ birth and new life through Him, and I have this hope in an earthen vessel. This is the reason to rejoice in spirit and truth, and this is celebration enough.