As the plane was descending for its landing, one could look out the window and begin to see scattered groups of lights appear with large areas of darkness in between. As the descent continued, the plane was headed toward the largest concentration of light—the capital city. Only that which was lit by the city lights was visible due to the flight landing close to midnight. Once outside the airport, there were distinct sounds and smells that were unlike anything back home. We loaded a bus and began a trip to our destination that would open my eyes forever. As we drove through the city, the condition of the infrastructure began to deteriorate quickly; the roads became rougher while the buildings became more rundown. There were very few people on the roads but stray animals abounded. Soon enough the bus stopped and we unloaded onto a quiet street, made our way into the home we would be staying in, and settled in for the night. The next morning, the coming of daylight brought a new perspective to the area we were staying. The sunlight revealed more images that were anything but home. However, we were on our mission field, in the place where God had opened doors for us to travel and work. We were in the city of Lima, Peru; specifically in the district of Comas.
Now, you may be wondering why I have seemingly rambled on in this manner. And, the truth is, I cannot help but recall this trip. You see, in America we have celebrated Thanksgiving and now we are gearing up to celebrate Christmas, but ever since my first trip to Peru in the summer of 2013, I look at this season of year through a different lens. The majority of Americans gorged themselves on Thanksgiving Day—eating more in one sit-down meal than most people around the world eat in day, sometimes a couple of days. Moreover, many who took part in this celebration feast did so in a frantic rush to get off to the nearest store for a retail steal. After all, do you not know that Black Friday now begins around 6 pm on Thursday? And, as the days race toward Christmas day, stores become more congested and people become more stressed about purchasing the right presents or attending all the Christmas parties within their context of life. The problem is, within all of this hustle and bustle, we have forgotten why we are celebrating the Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons in the first place.
Now, before you take me the wrong way, there is nothing wrong with gathering around a Thanksgiving table and enjoying time with family and friends and there is nothing wrong with giving presents to your family during the Christmas season. That is, there is nothing wrong with these celebrations, if we understand that Christ is at the center of this season. To truly celebrate Thanksgiving we must understand that God alone is worthy of our thanks because he "is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations" (Psalm 100:5). Likewise, truly celebrating Christmas is understanding that we are celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ who would provide the way for fallen man to have communion with Holy God through His sacrifice. As the angel of the Lord said to Joseph in a dream regarding the child conceived within Mary, "She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins" (Matthew 1:21). As a matter of fact, it is through the forgiveness of sin offered through Jesus Christ's death on the cross that we as a people are able to celebrate at all because only through a relationship with Jesus Christ can one comprehend the ideas of celebration or rejoicing.
Therefore, through spending time in third-world conditions and seeing a people celebrate because they knew what it meant to have Christ even though they had no extra material belongings, I now have a different outlook on this holiday season. I do not celebrate because of all that God has provided in a material sense but because through my relationship with Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior I now know what it means to celebrate in the truest sense of the word. Those who believe in Christ as Lord have the ability to celebrate each day as a new opportunity to see God at work. Moreover, during times of national celebration, believers in Christ are able to celebrate because they have Christ, thus the ultimate forgiveness of sins which is the ultimate basis for celebration. Let us not lose sight of the fact that without a relationship with God through Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, this season of celebration means nothing in the grand scheme of life. Let us reflect on the truth that through Jesus Christ we may celebrate each day as a new day to walk with our Lord even when we have no material possessions.
James Christopher Powell has served as assistant minister in Northwest Florida for ten years.
He studies at The Baptist College of Florida where he is working on a Master's degree in Christians Studies.
He married his wife Jennifer in March 2014.