Christmas with my family has never been traditional.
When we were younger, Dad would invite some of students over for dinner and we would gather around spare ribs in BBQ sauce, braised kailan, steaming bowls of rice.
My sister and I would reenact Angel Gabriel appearing to Mary, followed by a squeaky performance of O Little Town of Bethlehem on my half-size violin.
Most of my Christmases were warm – either in tropical Singapore or in a summery Melbourne with Mom’s side of the family.
It was only when we moved to Waterloo that we started to associate snow with Christmas, and even then, 2012’s Christmas was spent sipping Pina coladas on the sands of a Cuban beach.
In a way, it was freeing. Being first-generation Christians, my parents never felt bound to any one tradition, having never grown up with them.
No mandatory family dinners, no need to fill stockings with unnecessary junk that Mom said cluttered the house (because how many times are you really going to use that little trinket?) and why would you ever waste perfectly good milk and cookies sitting them out overnight?
So, Christmases for me, stripped of traditions and nostalgia, are held together by the only common thread they all share:
a Savior King who drew near to His creation.
This Christmas, this bare truth strikes me both at an intellectual and emotional level.
Intellectually, I have never wrestled with the Incarnation as much as I have this year.
“Jesus is God with us, Immanuel.”
“God came as a baby, entering our world.”
We repeat such phrases to each other, slip into these patterns of talking the way we slip into well-worn shoes.
Repeating them at the mosque, however, only elicits violent reaction.
To Muslims, the greatness of God is His most defining characteristic (hence the phrase Allahu Akbar – God is great).
To even hint that God could have needs, or exhibit weakness is a great sin.
Much less to assert that God could be contained in the finiteness of a human body, or a frail, wailing infant.
I can neither explain the mechanics of the Incarnation, nor tease apart the paradox of God being both infinite and finite concurrently.
All I can do is sit in the uncomfortable position of believing something I cannot prove or explain without reducing it to trite platitudes that do nothing to bridge the gap of disbelief.
There is no information I can Google that helps me either – maybe Google isn’t the King of knowledge after all.
Where my intellect fails to comprehend, my heart responds, telling me what is true.
The same way my heart tells me what love is much better the measured levels of oxytocin rising in my blood can.
The emotional piece of this Christmas surprised me suddenly at our church’s Christmas Eve service.
When the introduction video asked: Why did Jesus come to live with us?
So we didn’t have to be alone.
The answer came immediate, in the part of me where memories and feelings are stored.
So that both of them came with the answer.
The memories of 8-year-old me clutching my packet of Milo searching for an inconspicuous place to sit for recess.
16-year-old me in a crowded room surrounded by people who are laughing at jokes I don’t get.
24-year-old me – the seventh wheel in a triple date.
Jesus came so that we wouldn’t have to be alone.
He chose to draw near, physically entering His creation.
In becoming one of us, He drew near emotionally, understanding the human experience not simply because of His omniscience but because He lived it.
And because of Him drawing near, we don’t have to be alone in eternity.
I can’t explain why tears welled up in my eyes in that moment, even when this truth has been told to me in Christmases past.
Anymore than I can explain the Incarnation, for that matter.
And I hope that more than anything else – this remembering of the nearness of our God will become the tradition that I pass on for the many Christmases to come.
Wishing you a wonderful, joy-filled Christmas season 🙂