This year will be our fourth Christmas in North Africa. In North Africa, this holiday season is on display in all the malls and shopping centers. But the true reality behind it—in particular, the advent of Jesus Christ—is barely understood. This is why our family lives in this part of the world, to proclaim the coming of Christ, Emmanuel, God with us.
We’ve celebrated the holiday season in various ways. One Christmas we invited some dear local friends to help us set up a Christmas tree with festive music in the background. This was a new experience for them, but it helped to build our ongoing friendship. We’ve had Christmas parties at language schools and gift exchanges with other friends. We also try and gather with other missionaries since we know they are also separated from their families. These gatherings make us feel like family and soften the pain that sometimes shows up during the holidays. One of our favorite traditions is to have a big breakfast on Christmas morning—headlined by my dad’s over-stuffed omelets and my sister’s famous cinnamon rolls. We then read the Christmas story in Luke.
Sometimes we feel guilty for taking our kids thousands of miles away from their grandparents, perhaps especially so during Christmas. Nonetheless, we dwell on passages like Philippians 2. Paul describes the mystery of the Son of God leaving heaven to take on flesh. Jesus’ humility is staggering. He humbled himself and took on the form of a man. He travelled much farther than thousands of miles, and the incarnation is a much greater demonstration of sacrifice. As we feel the pain of separation, we’re encouraged to remember Christ.
Celebrating with a Church Family
This year offers a special kind of joy. For the first time, we have the privilege of celebrating Christ’s coming with our newly planted church. In Ephesians 2:19, Paul describes the church as “the household of God.” We’ve gathered in previous years with believers but this year we get to gather with our church family. What a special joy to celebrate with brothers and sisters who are committed to helping one another reach home.
The toll of missionary life is a great privilege. It’s our joy to live in North Africa as heralds of Christ. What an even greater joy to proclaim this Savior, one who has given himself so that all who trust and follow him will be saved from their sins.
The Wonder of the Incarnation
Living in a region of the world dominated by Islam means that Christmastime offers a unique opportunity to talk about Jesus. Muslims rarely shy away from conversations about religion, and Christmas affords us an obvious excuse to bring Christ into our conversations. Earlier this year, I was struck when having a conversation with a Muslim about how absurd the incarnation sounded to him. And yet, as our conversation progressed, I began to realize that the absurdity of the incarnation is not something to argue about, but something to embrace. God taking on human form ought to shock us. It’s unexpected, even unreasonable on its face. There was something right about my friend’s confusion. God drew near to His creation by taking on human flesh—how can it be!
But it’s also the best news in all the world.
The incarnation should cause us to rejoice. It’s the only hope a sinful world has for salvation. If Jesus didn’t take on human flesh, then we have no mediator, no redeemer. If the baby born in Bethlehem is not God’s Son, and if he’s not truly human, then His dying on the cross accomplished nothing for us. But Jesus is God’s Son. He did in fact leave Heaven behind to assume human nature, and eventually to carry a cross to Calvary. He came to give His life as a ransom for many.
So, this year, let’s celebrate the wonder and joy of the incarnation.