Friday, December 12, 2008

Celebrating God-With-Us

Usually on Tuesday afternoons a friend brings her two daughters to our house after school. The younger girl is in Jack's class, and her older sister takes piano lessons from a woman who lives across the street from us. So we all walk home from school together, the kids have a drink and a snack, the piano student heads off to her lesson, Jack and Sophie play with her sister and my friend and I have some uninterrupted time to drink tea and talk. Something happened last week that they couldn't come, so this Tuesday was the first time they had come so far in the month of December.

Since December 1st, Jack and Sophie have been opening their advent calendars as soon as we get home. We peel off all the outer layers of weather-wear, Jack turns on the lights of the Christmas tree, we sit down in front of it with their advent calendars and read through the verses, starting at Day 1 and reading all the way to whatever the current day is. Each day's window reveals the next bit of the Christmas story as well as a tasty bite of chocolate.

On Tuesday when we came home with our friends, Jack headed straight for the advent calendars and asked if we were still going to open them. Sure, I said, as long as you're prepared to share your chocolate. He was happy to do that (whose kid is this again???), so I sat there with four eager children instead of two, reading through the verses for Days 1-9 and marveling at the beautiful simplicity in which God often chooses to reveal Himself.

My friend and her daughters are devout Muslims. They must be marginally familiar with the Christmas story from what they've read in the Qur'an and what they've been taught in school. But on Tuesday, almost before I realized what was happening, they were wrapped up in the arms of our little advent ceremony and, rather than being frightened by something strange or offensive, held close by the warmth of our friendship.

Later that evening as we gave thanks for our supper, I asked God's blessing on my friend and her family. As we ate, I said to Jack, That was probably the first time your friends have ever opened an advent calendar.

Really? he said. Why?

Because they're not Christians, I said. (After which I explained that Christian means someone who loves and follows Jesus and that Muslim means someone who believes in God but doesn't think Jesus is His Son and that Muhammed's message was God's final word.)

Jack gave me a funny look, and said, Then why are we friends with them?

Oh honey, I said. We're friends with them because we have lots of fun together. They're good, kind, caring people, and they are such amazingly good friends to us. And because we might be their only friends who know Jesus. By being friends with them, we have a chance to show them God's love in a Jesus-way. And maybe one day they'll come to know Jesus, too. (Inshallah.)

I think one of my many favorite things about the Christmas story is that God comes to ordinary people in extraordinary ways. And sometimes in ordinary ways, too. Jesus was born just like we were, I tell Jack. He became one of us, befriended us in order to show us how great is God's love.

May we do the same at Christmas and all through the year.

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