Traditions run deep in every family, every culture, every nation.It was a pleasant surprise as we rode through the downtown area of San Jose to see Nativity scenes displayed with colored lights flashing Feliz Navidad. Small homes behind their barred gates had their nativity scenes out (some nearly life-size). At the center of the big mall, inside there was another giant nativity scene. Santa Claus wasn’t the focus, hardly there at all. A Costa Rican friend said that Santa arrived about a decade ago via a Coca~Cola billboard!
Christmas day was one of worship from beginning to end. From baptisms, purchasing a large food order, delivering needed gifts to families in the barrios, a Christmas service to serving a dinner to each of those who showed up at the worship service.
After incredible worship led by the band, poetry being read, and mime acting to a song, Pastor Alejandro shared insight (for me) and a challenge to each of us. “Christmas is not about setting out a nativity in your home, it is not about baby Jesus in a manger, it is not about baby Jesus bringing you gifts, it IS about the Gospel, Jesus coming, dying and being resurrected – bringing salvation.” As Mariana whispered his message in my ear (interpreting it for us) my back stiffened a bit; thinking how hard the pastor was being on baby Jesus and the nativity scenes…
then I got it.
The United States has their Santa Claus, and Costa Rica has el niño Jesus bringing gifts. Catholicism is the primary religion, with extra traditions added on of course -like Christmas Eve, if you have been good el niño Jesus will bring you gifts.
As we made our way through the barrios on Christmas day, my heart ached a little more. It’s ok if Santa’s sleigh never makes it here, but what if they have been pretty good kids all year and they desperately want baby Jesus to bring them a gift on Christmas Eve and he never shows up? A hard reminder of how some tradition and religion can kill faith. Will it make it more difficult for them to believe that Jesus came as a baby, not bringing our wants on Christmas Eve, but bringing salvation to all who will trust him?
Vivid in my mind are the faces that we saw, spoke with, touched on Christmas day, may the Gospel that they heard change everything for them!