Christmas in Mecca

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December 26, 2017

PSALM 96:1-10

1 Sing to the Lord a new song;
    sing to the Lord, all the earth.
2 Sing to the Lord, praise his name;
    proclaim his salvation day after day.
3 Declare his glory among the nations,
    his marvelous deeds among all peoples.
4 For great is the Lord and most worthy of praise;
    he is to be feared above all gods.
5 For all the gods of the nations are idols,
    but the Lord made the heavens.
6 Splendor and majesty are before him;
    strength and glory are in his sanctuary.
7 Ascribe to the Lord, all you families of nations,
    ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
8 Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name;
    bring an offering and come into his courts.
9 Worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness;
    tremble before him, all the earth.
10 Say among the nations, “The Lord reigns.”
    The world is firmly established, it cannot be moved;
    he will judge the peoples with equity.

CONSIDER THIS

Several years ago my family traveled on Christmas Eve to Amman, Jordan, for a cousin’s wedding on the day after Christmas. We all arrived okay, but my mom’s luggage went to Rome. So we spent Christmas Day at the “Mecca Mall” in Amman getting new clothes for mom.

Mecca Mall was just like any mall in suburban Dallas, with crowded stores during the holidays… especially because there were two holidays. That year, the Muslim celebration of Eid was the same week at Christmas, and Mecca Mall was decked out for the seasons. In the middle of the mall was a giant Eid display, complete with a huge replica Quran open to a significant verse hanging over a replica mosque set at the night of the new moon, surrounded by hanging strands of lights and fake lambs signifying the sacrifice for the feast.

And right next to all that was a giant Christmas tree, with a big star on top and lots of presents underneath, with a few plastic reindeer pulling a replica Santa sled up into the air.

All around the mall were signs in English and Arabic that read, “Share the joy of Eid and Christmas celebrations,” and in the background I could make out “Jingle Bells” and “Silent Night” in Arabic playing over the mall speakers.

Here I was, in a majority Muslim country, and the Mecca Mall was wishing me a “Merry Christmas.” To be honest, it confused all my notions of the so-called “War on Christmas” and all the cultural, political, and even spiritual emphases we place on it.

And then it made me wonder, what story are we really telling in all this? In America we decry the idol of consumerism at Christmas, while at the same time arguing about how much of Jesus should be wrapped up in what the sales person says to us. And here I couldn’t tell the difference between Mecca Mall and the Mall of America.

So what’s the deal? As I said last week, I believe the whole “Merry Christmas” verses “Happy Holidays” skirmish is a smokescreen used by the enemy to distract us from what’s really important. I believe one of the reasons we lose sight of the story we’re supposed to be telling is because we miss that Christmas is a season, not a day (and why it’s called “The Twelve Days of Christmas”).

In fact, most of the Christmas stories we sing about during Advent happen after Jesus is born: angels and shepherds and rulers and killings and foreign visitors. What do those stories mean for us as followers of this newborn king? And what do they mean for a world of little “g” gods and idols?

Today is not the “day after Christmas.” Today is the second day of Christmas. Just like Advent, we need a Christmas season, because the incarnation and it’s implications for the nations can’t be fathomed in one day. In the birth of Christ, there are cultural, political, and spiritual stories at play that affect the whole world. We need to know these stories, and then tell them well… whether it’s Mecca Mall or the Mall of America.

So come, let us adore him.

To be continued…

For the Christmas awakening…

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Omar Rikabi is a United Methodist Pastor serving in North Texas. When not telling stories, Omar likes to watch movies with his wife Jennifer, read books with his three daughters, and work in the kitchen cooking and grilling for family and friends. You follow him on Twitter @omarrikabi or visit his blog omarrikabi.com

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