Tonight Marie Ens invited me to join her as we went to a Carol Sing-a-long at a local cafe called Cafe Eden. It was an opportunity to sing both English and Khmer carols. We arrived and it was quite dark with a few lighted candles thinking that this was the atmosphere our hosts were creating but here in Cambodia, you always have to expect the unexpected and the unexpected was there was no power! So one has to improvise. We sat at a small candle lit round table as we ordered our pizza since neither of us had eaten. We were here for the apple cider and ginger cookies but they were not to come until later. Sure enough, people started arriving and surprisingly many friends from the English church I attended came as they live nearby.
Just as the carol sing was about to begin, the power came back on and then went off again briefly before it stayed on for good. This is Cambodia so you go with the flow. We all gathered together and started to sing some of the old familiar songs that I am used to hearing back in Toronto at this time of the year. Here we were, expats from all over the world---Australians, New Zealanders, Irish, English, Canadian, American, Dutch along with some Khmer Christians---all of us declaring God's praises as we belted out the songs at the top of our lungs. It was beginning to feel like the Christmas season as we sang --- Away In A Manager, Silent Night, Joy To The World, O'Holy Night----I sat there for a while just taking in the environment---an open air house/restaurant at a street corner in a neighborhood surrounded by Khmer people proclaiming these truths of Christ in songs. I asked Marie what it would have been like during the 1960s and 1970s. She said in the 1960s it was so quiet here but in the 1970s, Pol Pot tried to shut all this down, to quiet the voices of those who would declare such praises to the Lord. God's plans will not be thwarted. His plans always prevail. What a wonderful opportunity for us to just proclaim who God is in song in this place at this time.
Julie leading us in worship accompanied by Jill from Ireland and Sirac from Cambodia
Tonight as I began to reflect a bit more about Christmas, I am struck by the fact that that first Christmas some 2000 years ago was not full of fanfare as we see in North America. There were no Christmas trees, there were no lights decorating the streets, there were no fancy decorations. It was simple. A baby born in a manger, in a barn and not in a fancy home or hospital. The baby was surrounded by shepherds, not exactly important people. Jesus birth was in a poor place, not unlike many of the areas that are here in Cambodia. So, in a strange way, celebrating Christmas in Cambodia is very special because all the materialism and consumerism of the West is stripped away and all we have and really all we celebrate is Jesus, nothing more and nothing less! The true meaning of Christmas is seen for all it is -- that Christ the Savior of the world was born and that is what makes it feel like Christmas! It is not a season, it is not a place, but it is a person---Christ Himself, God becoming incarnate that we might know Him personally!