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What I learned about the incarnation from Christmas in the Southern Hemisphere

Friday December 18 2015

What I learned about the incarnation from Christmas in the Southern Hemisphere

I celebrated most of the Christmases of my childhood and early adult life in northern cities in the Northern Hemisphere, where night falls in December long before 5 pm. The most common Christmas imagery in those places draws on the Gospel of John’s description of Jesus as the light of the world. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness will not overcome it” (John 1:5). The dark and broken world needs light, and every evening during the Christmas season the candles and lights in our homes shine in the dark night, and we remember that reality.

It took me a while to adjust to Christmas here in the Southern Hemisphere, with the long days and warm December weather. Because the majority of Christians throughout history have lived in the Northern Hemisphere, many Christmas songs, poems, stories and traditions draw on Northern Hemisphere symbolism, and it makes us miss the rich possibilities for Christmas imagery here. I am convinced, with some creative thinking, Christmas in the Southern Hemisphere can be a meaningful experience of celebrating with joy the Christian emphasis on Jesus becoming flesh in order to redeem the whole creation.

Warm weather gives opportunities for all sorts of outdoor activities at Christmas: tramping, sailing, swimming, biking, gardening, walking on beautiful beaches. Delicious local fresh fruit and vegetables are in season. For many, the long school holiday creates relaxed times with families and friends.

On long bright summer evenings, you may want to pause to remember that Jesus is the light of the world. While we are enjoying light, many people on earth are experiencing darkness, both literal and metaphorical. Spend a few moments on a light-filled evening praying for God’s light to shine in darkness.

When you’re enjoying being outside in nature using your body, you may want to stop to reflect on the mystery that Jesus took on human flesh. He walked human roads alongside human companions. Spend some time praying for those whose human bodies cause them pain rather than joy: maybe a friend who is fighting cancer or someone who has been sexually abused.

When you bite into a fresh strawberry or home-grown tomato, you may want to take a few moments to remember that Jesus ate with his friends. He took on human flesh fully so he could fully redeem it, and being human involves the pleasure and necessity of food. Pray for those who lack enough food and for those who lack high quality food. Jesus came to earth for people in every kind of need.

When you’re relaxing with friends or family members – or even when you’re irritated by them – perhaps pause and remember how highly Jesus valued human relationships across all sorts of boundaries. Pray that you will cross boundaries in your relationships, and pray for those who experience pain in their relationships or who are lonely.

A summer time Christmas gives us the opportunity to remember Jesus’ birthday in ways that haven’t been commonly stressed in the past. To do so, we need to relinquish Northern Hemisphere imagery. We need to learn to celebrate the warmth and the light and our physical bodies as ways to connect with the deep truth that Jesus became fully human in order to redeem all of humanity, and indeed, the whole created world.

(If you'd like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up under "subscribe" in the right hand column. This post was originally published in the Otago Daily Times. Watercolor by Dave Baab)



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