The beautiful lights at Tihar look very much like Christmas lights in the west.Christmas is also the season of LIGHT. Homes, shops, schools and public places are lit up with lights. However, my Christmas celebrations in Nepal have been very different. No beautiful lights in the streets, no Christmas songs resounding in public places, no Christmas atmosphere like at home.
Yet, the meaning of Christmas has become much clearer to me since I came to Nepal. It was as if all the man-made entourage had been taken off the celebration and therefore the real meaning of Christmas stood out.
Six years ago, a few evenings before Christmas, a group of people visited my house. There was a knock at the door and some youth shouted, “Do not be afraid, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today, in the town of David (Bethlehem) a Saviour has been born to you. He is Christ the Lord.” I opened the door and saw a group people. They had announced their arrival with the same words as the herald angels had announced the birth of Jesus to the shepherds in Israel, over 2000 years ago.
I invited the carol singers inside and they squeezed together in my little room. We sang about the birth of Jesus Christ, the newborn King, while some played the guitar and others the Nepali drum. After some refreshment the group went on to visit another Christian family nearby to announce the remembrance of Jesus’ birth. He is the Light of the world and came away to overcome darkness. Many groups of people, young and old, go to homes for Carol Singing. It is an old tradition, which started in 1600.
On the 24th of December, the day before Christmas, the church had asked for volunteers to come and help cut vegetables and clean rice to prepare for the ‘Love Feast’ which is held every Christmas. The next morning, very early, the men prepared the meat and started cooking. Towards 10 o ‘clock people started to flock into the gate. Some came in big groups. One man had brought his family and half of their village, walking for one and half hours to be part of the feast. He wanted all their friends to hear the message of How God sent His Son Jesus to earth to reconcile sinners with God.
Groups of people chatted and socialized until the worship team started to play music and sing songs. Soon everybody who knew the songs joined in and the service started. An LCD projected the whole service on a screen so everybody could see the leaders and speakers. It was very crowded, but the songs and worship were beautiful. I could almost picture the night in which the herald angels lit the sky and filled the air with their songs announcing the arrival of the Son of God.
I wondered what the shepherds thought when they found Mary and Joseph with a baby in a stable. Maybe it used to be like Nepal, where in certain villages women who deliver a baby are considered impure and have to stay in the shed with the cows. Mary and Joseph could not find accommodation as all hotels were full. One hotel owner had offered them a place with the animals. There, Jesus was born. It is unbelievable; Jesus, God’s own Son had left heaven to live on earth and to become like us, his own creation so that He could save us. He was not born in a palace, but in a stable.
I realise that I haven’t missed the Christmas tree and other decorations. I don’t even miss Santa! It is precious to meditate on God’s love for the world. That love is shared by so many of us. After the service we have our love feast together. Young and old have brought their own plates and cups and queue up. It is amazing how quickly everyone is served. People sit and eat together. The spirit of Christmas: peace on earth, man and God reconciled. What a gift!
Photo: Pramod Neupane-WWF Nepal From red pandas swaying on branches in the eastern Himalayas...