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For anyone who has grown up in a culturally-Christian country, it can be a bizarre experience to be in a majority non-Christian country on December 25th. It is Christmas, but it isn’t. During one of my first years in Thailand, a Buddhist majority nation, I remember sitting through a school pep rally on Christmas Day at the government college where I was teaching English. It wasn’t about Christmas. It was just rah-rah-go-team-our-school-is-great. It was just a normal day for everyone. Students went to classes. Teachers taught. Everybody went to work. No mention of Christ, or even Santa Claus, although at the end of the pep rally parade there was an odd non-sequitur effigy of Uncle Sam hanging from gallows with IMF written on his chest. I didn’t quite understand what that had to do with the rest of the parade.
Meanwhile, in the United States, it would have been looking a lot like Christmas, or least the Western celebration of it. Carols. Tinsel. Presents. Big sales in the stores. Everyone asking what everyone else was doing for the holiday. Schools and businesses closed, and people traveling to see family. Snow, or at least images of snow. Regardless of whether people are committed Christians or just enjoying a secular holiday of family, food, and gifts, those are the kinds of things that many Westerners think of when they are getting in the “Christmas spirit” or say that it is beginning to look like Christmas.
เมื่อพูดถึงเทศกาลคริสต์มาส คนจำนวนมากคงจะคิดถึง “ซานตาคลอส” ชายอ้วนอารมณ์ดี มีหนวดขาว ใส่ชุดสีแดง ขับเลื่อนเทียม กวางเรนเดียร์ 8 ตัว เหาะเหินลงมาจากท้องฟ้าในคืนวันคริสต์มาสเพื่อมาแจกของขวัญ เรื่องของซานตาคลอสนั้นเป็นตำนานของฝรั่งจากซีกโลกตะวันตก แต่บางคนอาจไม่รู้ว่าตำนานเรื่องนี้มีที่มาจากชีวิตจริง และนาม “ซานตาคลอส” นั้นมีที่มาจากชื่อนักบุญ “เซนต์นิโคลาส”
นักประวัติศาสตร์รู้ว่าพระเยซูคริสตน่าจะเกิดในประมาญปี ค.ศ. 0 หรือก่อนปีนั้นหนิดหนึ่ง แต่ไม่มีใครรู้ว่าพระเยซูคริสตทรงบังเกิดวันไหนแน่ แม้ว่าคริสเตียนและคริสตังฉลองวันเกิดของพระเยซูเป็นวันที่ 25 ธันวาคมก็ตาม วันที่ 25 นั้นคงไม่ไช่วันเกิดจริงของพระเยซู
ถ้าเป็นอย่างนั้น ทำไมคริสต์มาสถูกฉลองเป็นวันที่ 25 ธันวาคม? คริสตจักรยุคแรกไม่มีวันพิเศษสำหรับการฉลองการประสูติของพระเยซู แต่วันเทศกาลคริสต์มาสได้เริ่มมีการฉลองในศตวรรษ์ที่ 4 ของคริสต์ศักราช เทศกาลคริสตสมภพ (คริสต์มาส) มีบันทึกเรื่องพิธีนี้เป็นครั้งแรกในปี คศ.336 และถือเอาวันที่ 25 ธ.ค.เป็นวันฉลองทั้งนี้คงเป็นเพราะวันนี้เป็นวันที่พวกลัทธิต่างชาตินับถือเป็นวันเกิดของพระสุริยายุทธเทพ ผู้เป็นพระเจ้าของเขา บางทีพวกคริสตชนอาจจะถือโอกาสคัดค้านพวกลัทธิต่างชาติ โดยเลือกเอาวันนี้เป็นวันเฉลิมฉลองพระคริสต์ ผู้ทรงเปรียบเหมือนสุริยเทพแห่งความชอบธรรมก็ได้ ตั้งแต่สมัยนั้นชาวคริสต์ทั่วโลกได้ถือวันที่ 25 ธันวาคมของทุกปีเป็นวันเทศกาลคริสต์มาสเพื่อฉลองการประสูติของพระเยซูคริสตเจ้า
My son had been waiting for a particular gift for quite some time and I I decided to have a bit of fun with him by wrapping it in about 7 layers of paper. It was rather fun to watch his reactions. Don't worry. He did get to the actual present eventually.
Dear Friends & Family,Ho, Ho, Ho. The Thai malls are fully stocked with lights, trees, and Santa hats (for purely commercial reasons, of course), which reminds people that Christmas is coming up some time soon, even if they don’t know which day it is or what Christmas is really about. But the secular PR that Christmas gets provides an opportunity for churches throughout Thailand to take advantage of people’s natural curiosity about this “foreign” holiday and turn it into an opportunity to share about Jesus. As you can see from the calendar below, we have lots of Christmas events coming up this month. Some we are only participating in, some we are leading. All the lessons at kids club in Nong Doan this month focus on Christmas and we’ll have our big Christmas celebration with the kids on Friday Dec 18th. I’ve ordered Thai-English illustrated storybooks about “Jesus is born” to give the children as a special gift. On Saturday morning Dec 19th, we’ll take the kids club Christmas program and do it for the children in our neighborhood. Please pray especially for both of these Christmas events for children - for our own planning, and for sufficient Thai helpers.
Dear Friends & Family,Merry Christmas! Thank you for your prayers for all of us. We are feeling strong and are working very hard with the Christmas outreaches and school programs scheduled for this month. Thank you also for the gifts and cards you have sent us.Here in Thailand, Christmas is not a time for family gatherings and celebrations, but a time of vigorous outreaches. If you look at our calendar, we have 10 outreach events for this month. It takes quite a bit of time to prepare and organize these events, but we praise God for opening such opportunities and for providing people and resources for them to be possible. Please pray earnestly for us and for all our brothers and sisters in Thailand who are also doing numerous other outreaches. Pray that God would be pleased to use these outreaches to
Dear Friends & Family,Thank you for praying for us during the Christmas season. It was a very busy time and when we finally finished our last outreach at Nong Doan High School on Dec 30th, we were exhausted. However, we praise God for the many opportunities to get the Gospel out. We were able to get into all three public schools (two elementary, one high school) in Nong Doan and share something about Christmas with the students. This was a great blessing and opportunity, and not without a certain irony since Christ is virtually banned in American schools yet the doors are open to share Christ in public schools in Thailand, a very Buddhist nation.
December is the high season for evangelism in Thailand. Tapping into people’s natural curiosity about this “foreign” holiday, Thai Christians and missionaries alike take full advantage of the opportunity to put on special Christmas evangelistic events and programs. Whether its in schools, homes, neighborhoods or churches, everybody in the Christian community is doing some kind of evangelistic activity. Over the years, I’ve participated in and lead many such activities but I’ve begun to wonder how “evangelistic” some of them are.
It is a great thing that Thai Christians and missionaries are leading songs and games, and doing crafts with kids on a Christmas theme. It is also great that skits or retellings of the Nativity story from the Bible are presented. It is my hope (and that of many others) that such activities will go a long way to dispelling the popular notion that Christmas is an American and European holiday that is about Santa Claus and gifts. That is the ONLY image of Christmas that most Thai people receive in the popular media, and it needs to be corrected.
One of the best parts of the Christmas season is the music. In Thailand, most of the traditional Christmas hymns are available in Thai, as well as some original Thai compositions. For your listening pleasure, spiritual edification, and cultural education, I have linked below a small collection of both Western and Thai Christmas songs for listening and download.
Listen online by using the embedded audio player for each song, or download individuals songs by right clicking on "MP3" and saving the file. Or you can download all the songs as a zip file here (32 MB - right click and save). These recordings do not have a copyright on them, as far as I know. The quality on some of them is a bit low, but they are enjoyable all the same.
In the middle of the classic Christmas hymn, “Away in the Manger”, there is this one line that doesn’t quite ring true. The second stanza tells us, “The cattle are lowing, the Baby awakes, But little Lord Jesus, no crying He makes.” Did baby Jesus really not cry? The hymn author was likely thinking that Jesus did not cry because He was perfect and divine. But does a crying baby Jesus detract from Jesus’ divinity? I think not, but a non-crying baby Jesus detracts from his humanity.I see no inherent conflict between Jesus being God and Jesus crying as a baby. Crying is not necessarily sinful. If a child cries when it is hungry, tired, or just plain uncomfortable, is that wrong? No, that is just the way that God made us. However, there is also selfish, sinful crying, which does manifest itself from infanthood because we are sinful from birth (Psalm 51:5, Eph. 2:3).
Most of the Christmas evangelism that I have seen (and have participated in) here in Thailand has focused on the birth narrative of Jesus. Mary, Joseph, shepherds, and wise men have all had prominent parts. However, when I helped out with a Christmas outreach at the Phrabaht Nursing College the other day, Pastor Jareun of the PhraBaht church took a different approach to the Christmas story and I think he may be onto something.
Instead of starting with the angel visiting Mary, Pastor Jaruen started with God creating the world. Then he moved on to talk about Adam and Eve, the fall into sin, the wickedness of the human heart, the judgment of God, and our inability to save ourselves. Therefore, the need for Christmas: the need for God to send a Savior to rescue us from sin. After briefly mentioning Jesus’ birth (and entirely skipping over Mary, Joseph, shepherds, and wise men), Pastor Jareun went on to give a couple illustrations of how we are unable to save ourselves and need a savior (bridge illustration and boat illustration).
Christmas time in Thailand is filled with opportunities to share about Christ. Thai people are curious about this foreign holiday and are happy to come out to special Christmas events put on by the Christians. This past Saturday we hosted a children Christmas event in our neighborhood, right across the street from our house in the community center. The neighborhood committee gave their approval and said we could use their public announcement system. However, we found out at the last minute that the speakers were busted and we were unable to let people know that anything was happening. Pastor Jareun and the teens from PhraBaht church hauled over the big speakers from church and we got the word out as best we could.
February 10, 2007
Dear Friends of Karl & Sun,
It was an amazing Christmas Eve, one we will never forget, and one that is already altering the future. We are so blessed to have Karl & Sun here, living just down the street from us. You see, Christmas approached way too fast this year, and all of us [Thai language] students has so many other outreaches and extra things on the go that we thought, when could we ever do something for our neighbors?
Even with three to four years cumulative time living in Thailand, I am still not used to how different Christmas is here when compared to the U.S. It is different not only in terms of how the culture in general "celebrates" the holiday, but also how Christmas is celebrated at church and in the family.Christmas in Thai Culture
Thailand is over 90% Buddhist so December 25th is just a normal working day like any other day. Buddhists don't celebrate Christmas - that is unless you own a department store or mall and want to get on the Christmas consumerism bandwagon. Because Christmas in the West is barely a religious holiday anymore, all that most Thai people know about Christmas is Santa Claus, gifts, Christmas tree, reindeer, and snow. And, of course, that Christmas is a foreign holiday, and therefore not for Thai people. But because of all the superficial hoopla in the West, many Thai people see Christmas as a fascinating curiosity. The big malls (which there aren't many of outside of Bangkok) put up some tinsel, sell Santa hats and fake Xmas trees, and have special sales, advertised, not as a Christmas sale, but something like "Amazing Gift Festival". And, like in the West, some Thai people find it fun to get on the superficial commercialized Christmas bandwagon. However, there is little to no knowledge about the true meaning of Christmas in this nation of Buddhists that has less than one percent Christians.
What I am about to say should be so obvious that I don’t need to say it, but I am becoming more and more convinced that this truth is being severely neglected in churches today: The person and work of Christ must be the content and center of our evangelism and preaching. Just this past December, I attended a Christmas outreach event at a local church (here in Central Thailand) where the primary evangelistic message had to do entirely with the benefits of believing, i.e. all the good things that will happen to you as a result of believing. The speaker used many funny and engaging stories to help his audience understand that when you believe in Jesus, you can expect to have joy, peace, eternal life, and help from God. There was one thing that was glaringly absent from his message: Christ!As part of the Bible reading plan that I am using this year, I’ve started to read through the book of Acts and in the first few chapters, we see plenty of examples of the content of preaching in the early church: Christ. In Peter’s Pentecost sermon, he basically tells his listeners that God sent Jesus, you crucified him, and God raised him, so don’t make any mistake that this Jesus is both Lord and Christ, i.e. Savior (Acts 2:22-36). Again, after the beggar is healed at the temple, Peter stands up and gives the a very similar message: God sent his servant Jesus, you betrayed him to death, you acted in ignorance but it was God’s plan, so repent so your sin may be blotted out because God sent Jesus to turn you from wickedness (Acts 3:11-26). After this Peter and John are arrested, and when examined by the authorities as to how they healed the guy, they say the same thing: this man was healed by Jesus Christ of Nazareth whom you crucified, God raised, but whom you rejected, and there is salvation in no one else (Acts 4:7-12).Biblical evangelism and Biblical preaching must have the person and work of Christ at it’s center. It may be more appealing to preach about a Jesus who primarily wants to give us stuff but it is only the sinless Savior who died on the cross because of God’s grace toward wicked sinners who is worth following. A Jesus who just gives us stuff is more like Santa Claus than God. And nobody follows Santa Claus. They just get stuff from him and say, “Thanks Santa, see you next year for some more stuff.” Santa does not inspire devotion or obedience, and requires no repentance. If only the benefits of believing in Christ are preached, and not the person and work of Christ, then people are easily misled as to the nature of the true Gospel. And the Gospel is wonderful! To think that wicked people who have hated God who is so merciful and gracious could actually be forgiven and our lives redeemed from bondage to sin and from the prospect of God’s judgment, is a fantastic and almost unbelievable thought. I want to preach Christ and repentance towards Christ for the forgiveness of sins so that God and sinner might be reconciled. This is the wonderful Gospel message and this is the Biblical message. Anything less is not the Gospel.
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