Christmas is a joyous time when we can enter different worlds.
When I was a child, our choir dressed up for the human diorama of the Christmas story on Christmas Eve. As teenagers, we went caroling, once dressed up as objects associated with Christmas—candles, candies, bells, gift packages, socks and, of course, Santa Claus and Snow Man.
Caroling to the rich
Caroling brought us to the houses of the affluent. We entered manicured lawns with trees brightly lighted and stepped on polished marble floors of mansions inside gated communities.
We started with our a capella piece, “Carol of the Bells,” then two other pieces with nice and complex piano accompaniment. The finale was “We Wish You a Merry Christmas,” not forgetting the important verse “So bring us a figgy pudding.”
Yes, there would be pudding among a rich array of food on the beautifully decorated buffet table, plus lechon, chicken, dumplings, noodles and, my favorite, hot congee served by uniformed household helpers.
Even after visiting five such homes, we teenagers still felt hungry.
The owners felt quite content that their preparations were appreciated. They would hand our leader a small red packet of “something for the church ministries.”
Caroling to the poor, sick
As we turned older and perhaps wiser, I suggested caroling for another group of people. Many old church members were sick and bed-ridden. Most of them were also poor.
Our pastors had them listed for home visitations, so I asked for a copy of the list.
So one December we entered another world through our caroling, going to dimly lit houses in an alley filled with boxes of things for recycling.
We were greeted with the smell of cat urine and bitter medicines, the moldy atmosphere not relieved by the electric fans.
Our repertoire was adapted to the audience—hymns translated into Hokkien such as “There’s Room in My Heart for You” and the always moving “Silent Night.” We sang with vigor and sincerity, as relatives of our host passed around boxes of mamon and tetra-packed juice.
If still articulate, our host would tell us stories—some pleasant, many painful—even as they complained of physical pains and aches.
We learned to give words of comfort and cheer. Then we would pray for the family—sometimes mixing up the many names mentioned by the sick old person.
As we came out of the crowded room into the corridor, we would feel the precious clean air and, more significantly, a sense of great joy and peace. Caroling to the poor and sick was far more meaningful.
Caroling to the neglected
Twenty years later, married with grownup children, December brought back memories of caroling, which I had not done for many years. Our youth singing group had been disbanded.
With the help of my friend Leonida, who was still with the old church I attended, we decided to visit the least visited persons of this church in downtown Manila.
This time I thought of exposing my daughter to a world she was not too familiar with. Crystal’s skills on the guitar would make a good contribution to my duet with a friend.
For this day of caroling, we brought not only songs of good cheer but also food, clothes and cash.
Many buildings we visited had no elevators. One very old, dilapidated building would have been long demolished in other parts of the world. We entered a living room cum bedroom cum kitchen, a big hole in the wall giving us a view of the neighboring building. The open spaces outside each unit were dusty and people were lounging on broken wicker chairs—seemingly without plans for the day or even the years after.
Christ entering our world
What inspired this piece was rereading John Stott’s words in his book, “The Cross of Christ.”
“Incarnation is entering other people’s world, their thought-world, and the worlds of their alienation, loneliness and pain,” he wrote.
Christmas means Christ’s incarnation as He, the Word, became flesh and lived among us. It is not just entering another person’s world in another part of town for a brief period. It is God entering the completely different planet of our sinful world of sinful people to be with us—as his name “Immanuel” means.
Incarnation is what the whole creation has been waiting for since the Old Testament.
But many of us who celebrate Christmas have not been able to comprehend and appreciate fully the meaning of this incarnation, which involves the whole package of incarnation, crucifixion and resurrection.
For this Christmas, let two words stand out during the celebration—Incarnation and Immanuel. See how differently more meaningful and powerful our celebrations can be.
E-mail the author at firstname.lastname@example.org