when I was 17 I spent Christmas in India.
I was in YWAM, doing a Discipleship Training School. I was enchanted with the country, with the gorgeous clothes I got to wear and all the lovely people I met, with the delicious spicy food I ate.
Of course the poverty astonished me, as did the faith of the people I met. I remember driving through neighborhoods on a motorcycle at night, seeing large, bright stars hanging over corrugated tin roofs. That's where the Christians live, I was told, they signify the presence of Christ in their homes with a star. In a country where persecution was more pressing and real, this small way of signifying seemed both brave and beautiful at the same time. I thought it lovely, and then returned home to my country. The land of Christians. The land where supposedly God was blessed and bestowed blessings back. The land where so many homes displayed bright lights during December. But as I drove around at night I felt the ache of homesickness, the particular loneliness of not feeling like I belonged anymore. I was searching for the stars. I was searching for a Christ who was real, not one that had been captured by a culture.
When I was little, I would sneak out into the living room after my family had gone to bed to stare in peace at our Christmas tree. I was the middle child, the quietest one in a trio of girls, I was always longing for my own little island. I would plug in the lights and sit on the couch and make my own special, solemn moment.
When I was eleven, I asked my dad why we weren't putting up Christmas lights. He said he just didn't care to do it anymore, but that I could if I wanted. So I got out the ladder and a staple gun and went to work. I was the only one who care enough to do it, and I was proud. Why is ritual so important to children? What did the putting up of lights mean to me back then, and what exactly does it mean to me now?
We put up some Christmas decorations today. This is my first time decorating my first house that I own. We have two Somali Bantu friends spending the weekend, because we finally have space. There are good things and bad things to this house thing (and let me not pretend otherwise) but expanding our tables is inherently good. Even (or especially) when it might not feel like it.
I knew I wanted to put up lights. I have been roaming the thrift stores, snatching up whatever works, I am going to be a crazy Christmas house lady I told my husband, and I could see his eyes grow wide with concern. I didn't care. I am desperate for good news in the encroaching darkness.
I think what I am trying to do with the lights is to make our home a sanctuary. Not the peaceful, calm, beautifully put-together kind. The other kind. In my heart I think: may our house be like the traditional sanctuary, a place where the suffering come when there is nowhere else to go. May it be a safe place for weeping and brokenness and tears. May it be a place for addicts and doubters and sinners. May it be a place of safety for all.
Isn't this what Christ-followers have done since the beginning? Signalled to the people on the outermost edges that they are welcome, that there is a place for them? The days are coming where sanctuaries will need to be found in neighborhoods like mine. I am grateful for my house, grateful to be so close to the sadness of our age, but sometimes I get overwhelmed. I needed a symbol, something to show the darkness that it has and will never overcome the Great Light.
So the other day I bought a star, and today we hung it up in front of our window. What I am trying to say is this: Christ is here, in my heart and in my home, always on the outskirts always appearing to those you least expect always coming to flip over our narratives of who is welcomed into the kingdom of God.
I went outside to see how it looked. I wonder how many people here are with me. I wonder how we will signal to each other what it means to follow Christ in a culture which values power and safety above all else. I wonder who else might put up a star in their window. Perhaps in time we could, like those neighborhoods in India, spread out as far as the eyes could see, stars popping up where you least expected them, the entire city lit up like a sparsely decorated little tree.