Every year, we have a Christmas party for our Iraqi refugee friends. Every year, it’s pretty much a success. Every year, in the weeks leading up to it, my husband announces that this is it, this is the last year we are doing this, how did he get talked into doing this again, this is too much work and stress and do people really even enjoy it? Giving is down, it’s hard every year to find people who want to help, what’s the point, etc etc etc.
This year was no exception. The stress, the last-minute planning (or lack thereof), the undeniable fact that no one came to help us set up, which made me very grateful indeed for my two teenage sons, who did far too much work. As usual, we had no idea who would actually come and who would snub the party. As usual, we had a good turn-out, so much so that we actually ran out of chairs and some people had to stand. The kids ran around, fueled as much by excitement as by sugar.
No chairs meant no high heels after a few hours!
My husband gave a short message, focusing on the promises of God fulfilled by Jesus. He talked about what it’s like to wait for a gift. When he solicited examples from the audience, adults gave examples of waiting years for husbands to join them, or for their papers granting them refugee status and admittance to America, but one girl talked about the bike she was getting for her birthday next week.
At these gatherings, the people closest to the speaker will mostly listen, but those even one or two tables away have no qualms about just carrying on their conversations full voice. It’s very frustrating for Americans. We are raised to sit still and listen when someone is speaking to us. We are raised to wait our turn, stand patiently in line. When Iraqi kids first arrive, this is hard for them. At schools, other kids yell at them and teachers are firm. You have to wait in line. The other day in my English class, we were doing the past perfect tense and I wrote on the board, “Before I came to America I had never…” and one student answered “stood in a line.”
But I had a small revelation as I watched the women in their hijabs chatting animatedly while my husband and a friend to translate stood at the other end of the room and tried to convey timeless truths. I’m sure that it was like this in Jesus’ time. I pictured the Sermon on the Mount, or the time just before the miracle of the loaves and fishes, Jesus speaking out over the Galilean hills crowded with men and women and children, whiny and hungry and hot all of them. The children no doubt ran around chasing each other, the women stood comfortably gossiping with babies on hips, and up front a few heard and fewer still let the word of God enter their hearts. And yet many lives were changed forever.
Why are we here? Why are we left on this broken and hurting earth that so desperately needs the hope of Immanuel, God with us? I believe with all my heart that it’s to bear witness, to shine light, to share hope with those around us. This often means crossing various barriers–of culture, language, personality. It’s easy to see cultural differences between Iraqi refugees who arrived last week and Americans, but sometimes the cultural differences are more subtle–maybe it’s just someone whose upbringing was radically different than ours, or someone who’s a staunch member of the “wrong” political party, or someone whose outward appearance or lifestyle choices shock or offend. As we reflect on and celebrate the coming of our Saviour to earth 2000+ years ago, let’s also reflect on how we are doing at intentionally reaching out, letting our light shine, sharing the reason for the hope that we have.