Monday, December 14, 2015


For those of you who have met me within the last few years, it may surprise you to know that when I was in high school and college, I used to volunteer with an organization that had me dress up as an elf, snowman or reindeer and dance around to bring Christmas cheer at schools, nursing homes and other places. The snowman had a "fur" suit that was supposed to resemble snow but made me sweat so hard that I needed a headband to keep Frosty from popping his head off to rub his stinging, sweat-filled eyes. When you play the snowman, you have to be ready for that inevitable moment when they bring you up front and sing Frosty the Snowman and watch you dance. You have no idea how long Frosty the Snowman lasts until you have to dance solo to it in a fur suit in a warm nursing home.

One day, when I was assigned to play the snowman, I was doing my thumpety thump thump thing when I started having a philosophical crisis (this is the part that will sound more recognizably like me for those of you who still aren’t sure about the costumes and dancing part). I realized that my song was not in any way related to Christmas. Not only does it not have any of the spiritual meaning of Christmas, but it doesn’t even mention secular aspects of Christmas such as Santa, cheer and ugly sweaters. How did Frosty come to be associated with Christmas?

Turns out there are other songs that we sing at Christmas time but that don’t mention Christmas or any other Christmas-related themes, including Jingle Bells, Let it Snow, Sleigh Ride and Walking in a Winter Wonderland. At best, these are winter songs.

The relationship between Christmas and cold has been weighing heavily on me as I prepare for my first Christmas in Cambodia. The heat index this time of year can frequently top 100o, and the concrete jungle that is Phnom Penh doesn’t hide you from the beating sun at all. I find that it is difficult to even remember that it is Christmas time, mostly because of the heat. Christmas time is supposed to be cold, and it’s not Christmas if it’s not at least a bit chilly.

Christmas decorations such as these are common throughout Phnom Penh. Even Cambodians who've never had a day of cold weather in their lives can't separate Christmas and cold weather.

A colleague wrote me an email which concluded with the hope that I would have a meaningful time celebrating Christmas this year. I planned on responding with more complaining about how hot it was. But as I was writing, it hit me that I needed to go a step beyond complaining. I ended up writing the following: “It's hard to get in the spirit when it's so hot, but that's just a reminder that Christmas is not about all the trappings we associate it with. We look forward to finding new traditions and new ways to celebrate God made flesh.”

I think I do a decent job of avoiding the excessive consumerism of Christmas. But as I wrote that email, I realized that I had another issue that vied with Jesus as the most important part of Christmas: weather. Thinking that Christmas should be cold is not bad in and of itself, but when heat keeps me from getting in the mood to celebrate the incarnation of my Savior, the same Savior whose coming led me to move to hot Cambodia in the first place, then I’ve got a heart issue I need to examine. This Christmas I am convicted that I have let something like weather determine how much I feel like celebrating God made flesh. I am grateful for the heat because it provides an opportunity to strip my celebration of Christmas down to what really matters.

As you celebrate Christmas this year, I ask two things of you. First, examine your own heart. What is Christmas about for you? Be open to the possibility that there are some subtle Christmas idols you’re holding on to. Second, pray for those missionaries and others who live in places where they don’t get to celebrate Christmas like they would in the US. It can be hard, and I’ve found myself feeling a bit resentful in some unguarded moments. Pray that we would find new traditions and would stop at nothing to celebrate the birth of Jesus in a way befitting our Savior and not be content with celebrating him in ways that merely befit the culture that has most popularized Christmas. 

I wish you all a Merry Christmas as you find new ways to celebrate, cherish the gifts God has given you, and live out what it means to celebrate a God who became human.