A Roma Christmas
January 11, 2022
“While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son…” (Luke 2:6, NIV).
On Wednesday morning, one week before Christmas, we visited the Roma camp on the outskirts of Tirana. Hundreds of yards of tents, stacked against each other, with a solitary public bathroom around which the tents were woven. Dr. Kaci had brought us there to initiate a dental ministry with plans to bus families to a private Christian dentist office in town. They were still asleep after a late night of begging in the city. The younger children slipped out first and later a mother or two. I look back and realize that this encampment was more like the world Jesus entered than my own world of bright lights and happy families.
We often remind others to “keep Christ in Christmas,” and then we realize that we may be the ones who most need to hear the message we speak. I love the season of Christmas with family, food, peace on earth, gifting and manger scenes. And from within that package of joy, I often need myself to remember, “It’s about Jesus.”
I’m sure there are many reasons for my faulty focus, including the excitement around me, the pleasant noise of family gatherings that drown out the gospel, even my ongoing daily familiarity with Christ that make a distant birth less profound. Such things make the coming of Jesus seem pleasant but not so earth-shattering as it once was.
When Jesus came to be human in Bethlehem, things were different. People were oppressed by Roman rule and Pharisaic religion. Shepherds were outcasts, not honored, much more like the Roma I visited than our robed children in their church plays. Mary was 16 or so, with an awkward uncomfortable swelling, people looking at her as if she were carrying a child out of wedlock. She walked five days to pay taxes and could only find a barn to stay in. This is the world into which Jesus came.
Perhaps we forget the incredible joy a Christ child brings because we live such happy lives, so much so that Jesus is just icing, not the whole cake as He once was for the oppressed in Judea. Perhaps I am too happy with life as it is to welcome a Child who came to deliver me from a world that no longer seems oppressive.
And perhaps I am fooling myself magnificently, as if I were not oppressed before He came, not overwhelmed by “my claim to my right to myself”1 that was leading me inevitably into darkness and despair. Perhaps I need to stop each Christmas and remind myself what my life would be without Jesus. That remembrance depicts an empty and hopeless life into which Christ was born, my life had He not been born. All the family, and joy, and peace, and gifting in my present Christmas is but a veil that covers my desperate need, a need satisfied by a baby busting out of Mary’s womb into animal straw 2,000 years ago.
Thank You for exploding into history to save me from myself.