Even here in Burundi, our tree is up, and the stockings are hung on the fireplace mantle.
At the heart of it all, what are we celebrating?
A story. THE story—of God coming to incarnate himself as one of His own. To rescue us. In many ways, it is an action story of the highest degree. The coming of Jesus spurred many things into action. Mary and Joseph stared down the fork in the road between the greatest story ever and fear of destructive social scandal. Angels came and cheered in the skies. Shepherds told of strange midnight happenings. Kings set out for distant lands. Herod trembled in his despot’s heart and ordered a massacre.
Churning. Upheaval. Action.
The words of the story belie the same:
“He has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate. He has filled the hungry with good things and the rich he has sent empty away.”
“Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel… and a sword will pierce through your own soul also.”
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
If it’s all true, if this has really come to pass, then nothing goes untouched. All is to be made new. And given how far the curse of our broken world reaches, that means that all will be changed.
The story heralds action.
So we act.
This is, at the root of it all, why we are serving as missionaries in Burundi. When we were far away and in great need, God came to save us. And so, though Burundi was far away, and we could easily just ignore the problems here, we came, following a new way of life that was inaugurated on the first Christmas.
As it turns out, it’s not easy. It’s sometimes terribly difficult, actually. Sometimes it feels like a great churning and upheaval reminiscent of Herod and the Magi. Sometimes it feels like the long, slow haul of a full-term pregnant lady on a donkey over rocky trails only to find no room to sleep. Sometimes it feels like a sword that pierces our heart. That’s how the story is. For all of us. And yet, Christmas tells us that it is a story bursting with promise, even so.
So we press on.
We pass to the next hospital bed, hoping that the treatments we started yesterday will make the necessary difference for this person’s life. We hope that the combination of our actions and our words will be enough to convince their heart of the truth that God loves them, that He comes to them, that He will never abandon them.
We sit in yet another meeting with our persevering Burundian colleagues, discussing the ever-regenerating list of administrative problems. How do we act justly? How do we continue well? How do we fill the hungry with good things?
We stand before another group of students with a piece of chalk, seeking for some way to bend our second-language French into a means of imparting potentially life-saving knowledge to them. We think of them even as we think of the myriad patients they will treat.
It’s so mundane.
It’s so full of promise.
But this call to action is unlike any other, because it is by utter grace. It is the story of God coming when we were helpless, lost and disinterested. It is the story of God giving himself away for the undeserving, and this exactly the story it remains: It does not rest on us. It rests on him, and that is precisely why it is so sure.
Thus, Christmas calls us to rise and be a part of what God desires to come about, but at the same time, it speaks peace and even calm into our hearts. All is ever in His strong, sure hands. We join with Him, not because the situation rests in our hands, but precisely because we rest in His. May it be light and life to you.