An Ethiopian Christmas +++++++++++++++++++
Some years ago our family stayed in Ethiopia for Christmas. We spent most of Christmas Eve in a land-cruiser on bumpy dust-roads that went through barren mountains. I was amazed by the creativity of God: how could he shape something so beautiful out of something so dry?
When we arrived at our destination late in the afternoon all of us were exhausted. In this tiny town of Lalibela we had to search for a long time for a place to stay. Men driving donkeys, women with babies on their backs, young men just loitering around, and barefoot kids kicking balls made of cloth in the narrow street – all of them pointed in different directions: The hotel’s over there; no, over there to the left; no, you have to turn back! It was when we managed to make another ‘this-is-not-possible’ U-turn that I suddenly thought: This is how Mary and Joseph must have felt when looking for a place to stay in Bethlehem: tired, hungry, near to despair.
Finally we found our hotel. I think that even the most experienced among travellers would have agreed that the facilities were far below what one could describe as ‘not up to standard’. Anyhow, we got our room at last. There were only four beds for the five of us, but this was solved by two young men who disappeared into a neighboring house and returned with what looked like a pile of firewood, but turned out to be a very shaky spare-bed when fixed together.
Now, remember it was Christmas Eve. That’s when we usually celebrate Christmas in our family. In front of the hotel there was a stone-table and a hard bench where we sat down in darkness. I had brought some homemade sweets which had melted into one big, sticky lump – it was a very hot day. I had to use my nail scissors to cut it into small pieces before handing it out. I felt sad for our kids: this was not the Christmas I wanted them to have!
We read the Gospel in the light of a torch, and then we tried our best to sing a Christmas carol in our tiny voices. I was happy that God sees to our hearts and not to our performance. We were too tired to talk and just sat silent in the warm night. Then I looked up. The sky was filled with stars. All of a sudden, I was filled with greatest joy. God was there. Christ was born.