“Once more – after twenty-two years, Christmas Day in Tolga – & again Christmas like in its deepest sense with just a touch of the fondak (native inn) to make it beautiful – common brick walls – earth floor & unglazed windows – such a tiny touch, but fitting in with the wonderful sense of being “weak with Him” which is the key note to the beginnings here. ‘Wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger’ – that is how the world’s redemption dawned!” 25 December 1923
Once again Lilias was in Tolga. On Christmas Day! This visit was all the more poignant with the realization that, in all probability, this would be her final journey to the Southlands. “I don’t think anything has been quite like the joy of getting back to one of these desert villages.” It satisfied the “longing of her heart” to be living in a real native house “alongside the people.”
How she loved the simplicity! Common brick walls. . . earth floor.. . unglazed windows. . . She couldn’t fail to make a connection with the site of the actual event being celebrated on that very day – the birth of Jesus the Christ.
Consider the setting God selected to bestow His incomparable gift – a baby: God Incarnate. Location? A humble village. Bethlehem. Habitat? A stable outside an inn; the crib a hay-filled manger. Support cast? Young Mary, Joseph the carpenter – and an assortment of barn animals!
Why? Why would God choose such a humble setting and people? What does this teach us about God, about people, about me? Let me answer with a story. . . .
Barb was in my 8th grade home room. In another time she would have, most likely, been placed in a special education program. She was teased mercilessly. And she didn’t seem to care. In fact, she seemed to welcome it, flashing a slobbery smile and begging for more. Or so I thought.
One noon, we were both in a study room next to our classroom – she for an accumulation of “tardies” (the result of classmates holding the door shut when the bell began to ring – making it to their seats on time while leaving Barb to fumble with the door). As I worked on my project, I noticed Barb’s head on the desk. She was crying. (She did have feelings!) When I asked her what was the matter, she opened her heart: her sense of rejection at home (family embarrassed with her) and at school (students making fun of her). She longed to connect with her classmates but didn’t know how. All her attempts were ridiculed. She had no friends.
In a rare moment of courage, given my timidity, I told her that Jesus wanted to be her friend. That He would be her friend if she asked Him. Right then and there, through her tears, she repeated a prayer after me: asking Jesus to forgive her sins; inviting Him into her heart. I wasn’t sure, from an eternal point of view, exactly what happened that day but I did know that I was enlightened by a glimpse into Barb’s heart and was stretched out of my comfort zone to reach out in friendship.
After Junior High, we lost touch. Almost a decade later, I ran into her at the local pharmacy. We immediately recognized each other and caught up with the missing years. Just as we were about to go our separate ways, Barb asked me, “Do you remember when I asked Jesus into my heart? He has been my friend ever since that day. Thank you.”
The Second Week of Advent. “What is the meaning of the Bethlehem Candle?” “The Bethlehem Candle represents the Light bearing witness to the Savior who was born in Bethlehem.” It illuminates an event in history – the birth of Jesus. It sheds light on the heart of God. He deliberately chose the humblest of places to introduce the long-awaited Messiah. And in the simplest of form: an infant child. And in so doing, He made Himself both understandable and accessible to the weak as well as the strong, the poor as well as the rich, the unacceptable as well as the desirable – by human standards. To Barb. To me. To you. “That is how the world’s redemption dawned.”
I come in the little things,
saith the Lord:
My starry wings I do forsake
Love’s highway of humility to take:
Meekly I fit my stature to your need.