Tag Archives: christmas


When I was a child the season of Advent seemed magical to me.  A time of anticipation, largely of the food and presents that would come my way when the Advent candle finally burned down to 25.  A time of joyous expectation.  It tied in with the decorations in the town centre, with the Christmas music on the radio, with all of the trappings of Christmas in a Western country.

The older I became, the more the glitter and magic of Advent wore off.  As I thought about the birth of Jesus it struck me that this was a rescue mission, a final and stunning act of lavish and proactive generosity on the part of a God who could not bear to be separated from his people.  My rejoicing was replaced with wonder as I realised just how much humanity needed God, just how much God longed to be reunited with humanity, just how extreme and astonishing the rescue mission was.

And now in Pakistan Advent seems more miraculous, more bizarre, more incredible than ever.  Most people here simply cannot believe that God would stoop to enter the world as a human: it would be beneath him, unworthy of his majesty.  I can understand the objection.  The incarnation of God in the person of Jesus Christ is a phenomenon not seen in any other religion, at any other time, anywhere else in the world.  How could a divinity lower himself to such a level?  It is unthinkable that God would require food, would stub his toe, would cry.  I understand the objection, though I do not agree with it.  The aspect of God’s nature which makes the incarnation possible is the unthinkable depth and breadth of his love.  He would do anything, anything, to be with his children.  What father would do less?

Apart from Pakistani Christians, nobody here marks Christmas.  Save for the gaudily-decorated lobbies of the expensive Western hotels there are no decorations, no Christmas songs, no Christmas adverts on TV.  We celebrate it quietly.  I enjoy this very much.  It is in keeping with the season of Advent: a secret rescue mission, a tiny baby delivered in a humble room in an irrelevant backwater of the Roman Empire, welcomed by lowly shepherds.  The baby who would go on to turn the world upside down after three decades in isolation.  Jesus, the ultimate sleeper cell.  Not many here know of him, but he is there, and his love is as broad and deep as it ever was.

We had a Christmas carol party at our house the other day: thirty foreigners from six or seven different countries all gathered together to sing carols, eat cookies, and drink coffee.  Unsurprisingly, it was a lot of fun.  Perhaps surprisingly, it brought the meaning of Christmas home in a very stark way.

Christmas carols are usually associated with fun and jollity – the kind of thing Westerners listen to as they do their Christmas shopping.  Since Christmas, at least in the West, has become a hyper-commercialised orgy of consumption and unnecessary expenditure, stripped of its Christian origins, so Christmas carols have become part of the cultural backdrop of the West – and so “Away in a Manger” is mashed up with “Jingle Bells” and “Driving Home for Christmas” and Mariah Carey singing “All I Want for Christmas Is You”, and may God have mercy on us all for that particular crime against humanity.

Singing these carols in Pakistan, where Christmas passes largely unnoticed, stripped of all of its commercial baggage, brings the meaning of Christmas home to us in a very striking way.

Put simply: Christmas carols are dark.

Take this, from “We Three Kings”:

“Myrrh is mine, its bitter perfume / Breathes a life of gathering gloom / Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying / Sealed in a stone-cold tomb”.

Or this, from “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”:

“Oh come, thou Rod of Jesse, free / Thine own from Satan’s tyranny / From depths of hell thy people save/ And give them victory o’er the grave”.

Not exactly chirpy, is it?  Or this, from “Oh Holy Night”:

“Long lay the world in sin and error pining / Till he appeared and the Spirit felt its worth / A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices…”.

The point is this: in wrapping Christmas in a bundle of gaudy, tinselly baggage of consumption and self-interest we have missed its most important point: that the birth of Jesus was part of a rescue mission to save a dark and broken world from its own slow suicide.  It is a time of rejoicing, yes – but only in that we are celebrating the arrival of the Messiah who came to save us.

It is ironic that I spent most of my life in a “Christian” country and yet only really appreciated the true beauty and power of the Christmas story when living in a Muslim country.