Look at this picture, below. This ancient house (in the background) in Bir Zeit [pronouce: beer zite] sits in disrepair, as do many of the houses in ancient Palestine. I took the picture on a visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories in 2008. Bir Zeit is very close to Bethlehem where Jesus of Nazareth was born. Notice that there are 3 floors. The third floor is enclosed on top. This is very much like the house Jesus of Nazareth was born in. Christmas is in celebration of this event.
If you remember the story, there was no place for Mary to have her baby and so she and Joseph (her husband) stopped at a local inn or house and asked for a place to stay for the night. As you can see this is not like the Holiday Inn you see on the Interstate. It was very basic with no running water, electricity or indoor toilets. I don’t even think they had a microwave. 🙂
Mary and Joseph were traveling to declare their residence (place of living) and pay taxes to the Roman Government. The Romans were occupiers and they had taken over all the land. They demanded all the residents to pay takes. It is like if the Canadians took over the United States and made everyone go to Alberta to pay taxes. And, you had to walk, or find a good donkey, horse, camel or other good four-legged animal. Goats were too small and deer are unmanageable. Elephants are too far away. 🙂
There was no Internet in those days and so one had to physically (or in-person) go to the tax office and register instead of registering online. It was worse than ObamaCare (which I support). They didn’t have video games either–it must have been very boring for them. 🙂
In those days, there were no cars and so they would travel with a donkey and it took a long time. So, sometimes they would need to spend the night. It is like traveling from Philadelphia to Spartanburg on a horse in the winter. You had to stop one night to rest and avoid the snow and cold weather. No Holiday Inn for you! 🙂
The “inn keeper” did not have room for them to stay in the main part of the house, so he let them stay where the animals were kept. It is much like a farmer who did not have room in his house so he let you stay in the barn with the horses. There was a lot of horse manure and the smell that goes with it. (although I rather like the smell of horse manure, but I don’t like the smell of pig manure.)
Above is a closer view of an Ancient house in Bir Zeit. The bottom floor was for animals (and their manure–and smells), the second for living, and the upper room (seen in previous picture) was for men. Men always got to stay on top. They were far away from the smell of the animals and they told the women what to do. I am not sure the women were always happy with that. Would your mother like your father always telling her what to do all the time? I don’t think so.
Why am I telling you all of this? Somewhere in the world, tonight/today–just like you–there are children who are looking for Christmas gifts. They live in Central America, African, Asia, and even the United States. Their mothers or fathers (but mostly their mothers) are cooking a Christmas dinner. But instead of a stove and refrigerator, they live in places, just like Jesus, with no electricity, or Internet, or indoor toilets. They will eat rice and beans, and maybe bread–if they can afford it. Their mothers cook on open fires. I took this picture in Guatemala in 2006. You can see the kitchen of a family living much like Jesus did, the first night. But this is happening NOW.
Just like you, they look forward to gifts of Christmas. They will not get an XBox, a computer, and Ipad or any other cool gift. They will be lucky if they get a box of crayons, a new pair of tennis shoes, or a shirt. But just like you they will smile–they will be happy. I hope you will smile and be happy. And maybe more than you, they will be very happy. You see, sometimes when we have nothing we appreciate the smallest of gifts. You have much, a nice house, a room to call your own, plenty of clothes, a good school, and great parents. I am glad you have those things. But you should never forget.
You are blessed with many good things. Your parents have worked hard to provide you with the best. Yet, If all you think about is yourself, and the gifts that you have, you have missed the true message of this Christmas. “Peace on Earth and Goodwill”. As long as there are children who live in the poverty of horse and donkey manure like the place Jesus was born, or houses made of tin and cardboard, there will not be peace on earth. And if in your happiness this season–a happiness in all your neat gifts–if you forget these children just like you–you will have missed the true meaning of Christmas.
It is your Grandfather’s hope and prayer that you will find a place in your heart and life–to commit to a high calling of career and future (what you will do in the future) to help all children–all people– to have a life of joy and safety and love and hope, just like your parents have provided for you.
Happy and Merry Christmas!