Following up after the last post, I realized this Christmas, while spent also in the heat of Jakarta, is unique, like it has always been. My sister and I took the afternoon flight on Christmas Day and arrived before 3 o'clock in Jakarta. Apart from the usual spartan decoration of the airport and the occasional Christmas-themed advertisement billboards, there was little else to indicate that it was Christmas.
My dad was waiting for us with a huge smile on his face. My mom, as usual, was supervising wholesale distribution of all kinds of beverage at her 'shop' - come rain or shine, Christmas or no. So we spent Christmas at the 'shop', waiting for her business to conclude for the day and had a quiet dinner.
Grace awaited us
My confessor had reminded me to remember to pray while 'on vacation', so I went home with a little apprehension lest the laxity of being on vacation at home makes us forget Him. This year though, Grace came in a form of a person :) It was a friend studying in the university in Singapore, who also spent her Christmas with her family, in another city in Indonesia.
Daily she would text me with a short snippet of what is happening to her and around her. Inevitably it would contain a prayer request, a concrete reminder for me to not forget to say my prayers. Her first text message echoed my silent lament: In Singapore we were positively inundated with Christmas decoration at every corner of every shopping mall, albeit for commercial purposes. For a self-proclaimed secular country with a Muslim majority like Indonesia, Christmas atmosphere was strikingly absent.
A few years ago, I would have "complained" and told myself that it is not my fault if I can't "feel" Christmas back at home. If I did not feel particularly charitable nor joyful during these diebus nativitatis, I would have attributed it to the lack of Christmas atmosphere. I was naive and silly, indeed, for wasn't Christ born for all of us in the whole world? Not only for those who were fortunate enough to live in countries that celebrate Christmas properly.
Looking back at the story of my own conversion, I realize that Indonesia and Indonesian Christians have the missionaries to thank. It is these silent martyrs and heroes who, perhaps inspired to bring the joy of Christmas to the pagan East, brought the Good News to my country. The joy of Christ was not meant to stay only in Bethlehem, nor in Palestine, nor in Europe. In the stifling heat of Indonesia, Christ is proclaimed.
Soon night fell and my sister & I found myself waiting in darkness in the car with the radio singing quiet tunes. My parents were out buying the next day's supplies for their 'shop'. I could hear my sister's thoughts echoing my own and my friend's: what a way to spend Christmas day! Suddenly, as if upon a cue, the radio played a most beautiful rendition of Ave Verum Corpus! I didn't cry, but I must confess I leapt with joy upon hearing that hymn, for it was balm to a drooping spirit.
No matter what circumstances we find ourselves in, I know that Christ is in Indonesia, Christ is in my city, and Christ is in my family!