It is the hottest day since we arrived in Entre Rios a few weeks ago. 73 degrees in the coolness of my room, at least 95 degrees in the sun. The date is May 10, 2009. There is no snow. There are shepherds in the fields nearby, but they are not looking for the Christ child, nor receiving any angelic messages in the sky. We are not singing Christmas carols, and we have not decorated a tree.
However, today I experienced the joy of Christmas in all its truth. Joy to the world, the Lord has come. Let earth receive her king. O come let us adore him! In the background jingles our jingle bell (announcing someone is at the door). The gifts arrived this morning, and they do not bear the name of Santa Claus. No, it is Samaritan’s Purse that brought these presents through their project Operation Christmas Child. They have come across the world from north to south, from French-speaking Canada to Spanish-speaking Bolivia. They have been sent a great distance to share God’s love with unknown children. No, these kids may be unknown by the sender, but they are known and loved here in this community, in this church, in this mission house where the children have gathered. Some children came not knowing what to expect. Some children came wearing their best.
As the children first see the boxes entering, the excitement in the room can be felt. But first, the message of God’s love must be shared again, for it is not a message to be forgotten, especially not on a day so special. The story of Jesus is shared, but instead of focusing on his birth, we focus on his resurrection, a rebirth for Christ and for us.
Open the boxes on the count of three!
Time slips by as children explore the contents of boxes and excitedly show others what they have received.
Later, a child in the street asks me if her cousin can also have a box.
Two of our little friends haven’t gone home yet, and cling to their boxes as they go to church and come back to our house. Their mother and another woman have a box between them, looking slyly at it through church. Crayons are strewn across our floor surrounded by artists hard at work. Canadian suckers fill the mouths of numerous children. One walks around with his new bear in his arms.
Some of the children receiving these boxes are quite familiar with gifts. They give and receive gifts somewhat regularly. Others are living meal to meal and are not able to give and receive such gifts. The surprise of the gift is half of its pleasure. The meaning of the gift is another huge part. The contents of the gift are treasured.
What I love is that it is more than Christmas soured. Christmas for me has often been soured by the expectation of the most, the best, the costliest gifts. Christmas is not a day to celebrate Christ in my culture as much as it is a day to focus on stuff. Honestly, the focus on gifts is the reason I even connect this day with Christmas in my mind. Christmas is a day for presents, and today there were presents. Today, however, the celebration is about rejoicing over what Christ has done for us, how much he loves us, and sharing that love with others. There is an essence to this day that is much more than I have known in many Christmases.