This past summer, I traveled to Africa like I had done many times before. I was seeing the same children, and doing mostly the same things I had done before. I was handling administrative tasks, spending time with the children, and investing in the relationships we have there. This time, though, was different. This time, I stayed at Ddembe House with the children. Robert and I literally dwelt with them. Two weeks before we arrived, the house mother/cook had taken medical leave, and so the kids and Moses were in need of someone to come and help care for them. I was so excited to be that person! I wanted to be a part of every aspect of their lives. I wanted to not have to say good bye at dark each day, but be there to tuck them in and tell stories. I wanted to eat with them, walk them to school, and be there when they got home. And I was. And it was awesome… most of the time. Living among my friends in Uganda meant I had to live like a Ugandan, not like an American. It meant that when we wanted drinking water, it had to be boiled. It meant that when clothes needed washing, we had to scrub them in a bucket with our hands. It meant that when we wanted to eat, we had to cook it, and then eat all of it, because there was no food storage. It meant that the mosquito net over the bed was our new best friend in a way we had not needed it before. While I knew all of this going in, quite honestly, it was the living AMONGST it for days on end that got long. After several days of working very hard to get any water to come out of the faucet, I might have sat in the bathroom and cried because I just wanted clean hair. After several days of hand washing clothes and uniforms, I might have wanted to make up a reason to keep all of the children home from school just so that I didn’t have to get their uniforms ready. After several days of cooking over a single burner, I might have wished for a way to “pick up dinner” from somewhere. You see,it is one thing to start and end living the same way. It is a completely different thing to KNOW another way of life, and live somewhere that is counter to what you know and expect. Jesus did this. This is the whole point of Christmas. Emmanuel – God WITH us. Jesus, The Word, who John tells us was “with God,” and “was God,” “became flesh and dwelt among us.” Jesus, who KNEW what Heaven was like, and KNEW what living with God was like, came down to Earth and lived here. He had to drink our water, eat our food, and sleep in our beds. Presumably, bugs bit him, some foods upset his stomach, and he was subjected to the same problems we have. This was not an ordinary man experiencing these things. This was God, who knew the difference.
When Robert and I were in Uganda, the first night we arrived, Moses said to me, “What will you be cooking tonight?” After my initial shock, and a meal that definitely could have turned out better, we ate. My friend Christy said she would have just stopped at the gas station and gotten samosas for everyone! One day when I did NOT want to do any laundry, I said to Moses, “I have clean underwear and new clothes for everyone in my luggage! We can skip the laundry for today!” One morning, I opened my eyes at 4:45 and realized that when I went to bed at midnight, I had forgotten to boil water and let it cool so the children could have drinking water for school. I quickly ran to my purse, counted out some coins, and let the children buy water from the cantina for the first time in their lives! On the morning of the water incident, Robert said, “Wow, Mom. Way to be an American and solve the problem with money.” I quickly replied, “I’m just grateful I was able to!!!!” The truth is that it WAS easier to solve my problems (and those I had created for others) by fixing them in my American way and with my American resources. Can you even IMAGINE how many times Jesus wanted to do the same?!!! We all know about the water into wine incident. Mary knew Jesus’ power, and wanted him to use it to make things better/easier.
Every meal Jesus ate, he knew there was better food in Heaven. Every time Jesus got tired, he knew that perfect bodies exist in Heaven. Every time Jesus had to walk miles and miles, or deal with grouchy and rude people, he knew of a place where it wasn’t like that. While this probably gave him hope, it also probably made it harder to deal with it here on Earth.
Robert and I stayed in Africa two weeks – living at a really nice house that is Ddembe. We have missionary friends who have chosen to live that life forever, and who have dwelt in far less favorable conditions. God himself, in the form of Jesus, CHOSE to come down from Heaven and dwell among us—among all of this.
Each year for Christmas, Keith and I give the kids an “experience.” We don’t give things, because we want to make memories and spend that time together with the children, investing in something that will last. We enjoy these experiences so much, and are excited every year to plan the perfect one with which to gift each of them. We have had several times when we know the gift will rock their worlds! I can only begin to imagine how excited God was on that very first Christmas. He was giving his earthly children the experience of living WITH God Himself, who had up to that point been unreachable and untouchable. Wow. Just wow. The gift came with a sacrifice on His part, as most great gifts do. The sacrifice wasn’t saved for Easter. He endured thirty something years of human-ness, knowing full well that there was something different – something Heavenly.
Emmanuel. God choosing to be with us and among us. The perfect Christmas gift.
The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Emmanuel" (which means "God with us"). Matthew 1:23
Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. Isaiah 7:14