I celebrated my first Christmas Eve service overseas a few years ago in South Asia. I went with a missionary family in my city to their church in a local school. I wore a Christmas dress much different than ones I had worn in the States, embroidered with bright patterns and sequins, with leggings and a dupatta for modesty. We piled into the wooden desks and benches; I sat on one side with the ladies in a sea of sarees and dupatta-covered heads. We sang unfamiliar songs in an unfamiliar language for two hours and afterward gathered outside to share some biryani with each other.
There was nothing familiar about this Christmas Eve service. No candlelight service. No Silent Night sung by a choir. No Christmas ham. But these believers were celebrating the same Christmas story we celebrate in the American church, and I would dare say despite the persecution they faced, with more joy. It was a reminder to me that the Christmas Story is certainly not American, nor is it intended to be. It has always been a story for the nations.
The Christmas story didn't actually begin 2,000 years ago. It began much earlier. Our first parents, Adam and Eve, chose disobedience in the Garden, and the result was sin and a broken world. But God promised in that there would be One who would come and crush the head of Satan (Gen. 3:15), providing a way of salvation for fallen man. God fulfilled his promise. He sent his only Son into this mess of a world, formed in a virgin’s s womb, born in a stable, to live the perfect life we could not live, to die the death we should have died, and to rise again, conquering sin and giving us the gift of a relationship with him. This is the Christmas story. This is the gospel. This is not just good news. It is the best news!
The Christmas Story is certainly not American, nor is it intended to be. It has always been a story for the nations.
Carl F. H. Henry said, "The gospel is only good news if it gets there in time." Christian, God has sovereignly placed nonbelievers in your life because you are the one he wants to use to proclaim this good news. The good news of Christmas can only be understood for what it is by your friend, family member, co-worker, or neighbor if they have the opportunity to hear it and believe it!
Amazingly, there is a good chance that you have an international friend, co-worker, or neighbor who only knows Christmas as the time Americans drink peppermint mochas and talk about an overweight old guy in a red suit who hands out toys. They have never heard the true meaning and story of Christmas. Many internationals worship gods they fear or live in fear that they have not done enough good or religious works to inherit eternal life. They do not know the hope of Christmas. They do not know the Savior who willingly and humbly chose to come and enter our broken world to redeem us. They do not know this God who loves them deeply.
The opportunities for gospel conversations at Christmas are ripe if you are intentional in seeking them out. I have listed a few ideas below on how to engage and share with internationals this Christmas, but of course, these ideas could also be used to engage with any of your lost friends, family, and neighbors.
- Invite them to church events and a meal or coffee afterward to talk about the content. For example, if it is a Christmas concert, you can ask if they noticed any themes in the songs or if they have any questions about what the songs talked about. This is an easy way to open the door to sharing the Christmas story.
- Bake some Christmas treats for your neighbors. This is a great way to start a conversation with your neighbors and a great time to invite them to your home. Internationals tend to come from more hospitable cultures, and an invitation to your home would be a significant way to begin a relationship with them. You’ll also learn along the way what they can and can’t eat, either because of their traditions or religions. But don’t let this stop you from taking the first step.
- Invite parents and children over to help decorate Christmas cookies or even your tree. This provides an opportunity to ask if they have heard the Christmas story and may open a door to share it with them. For example, they might inquire about ornaments you have and what they mean, especially if they display something about Christianity.
- Invite them to look at Christmas lights in your community. Who doesn’t love looking at Christmas lights? You could point out manger scenes you see and ask, "Do you know what that is? Have you ever heard the story of Christmas and why we celebrate? Could I share the story with you?"
- Invite international students to celebrate Christmas with you. If you live close to a large university, I guarantee you there are international students that will be the U.S. during Christmas, far away from their families and home countries. As you can imagine, they are very lonely and would most likely welcome an invitation to celebrate Christmas with an American family. You can contact a local campus ministry, such as a BCM (Baptist Campus Ministry), that could connect you with an international student. You could invite them to a Christmas Eve service, take them to look at Christmas lights, or better yet, invite them into your home on Christmas Day to celebrate with your family.
- Serve a local ministry that serves refugee communities. You can contact a ministry like this and ask if there are opportunities for you, your family, and/or your church to partner with them. If possible, you could ask to adopt a refugee family and provide them with a warm meal and winter coats for the family members. This could open the door to an intentional relationship with a family as you seek to meet their physical and spiritual needs.
These are just a few ideas, but I would encourage you to think about the community around you, their needs and their habits, and use your creativity to find ways to engage that community with the gospel. Our Lord has come. Let us joyfully proclaim the best news to the world.