What can we learn from immigrants about Christmas? This year, I have been attending a church with many immigrant members. As a white American who only speaks English, it has been a little weird to worship in a different language and culture than my own. However, God is using the immigrants at my church to help me freshly grasp the good news of the Christmas story.
First, the immigrants at my church have taught me what it means to truly worship Jesus. In the Christmas story, the first people we find worshipping God for Christ’s coming are the shepherds who were led by an angel to the manger. These shepherds, unnoticed by the world yet meaningful players in God’s plan, leave their sheep to go see a baby in a feeding trough because they know this baby is their Shepherd who will guide them to salvation. The baby who is now wrapped in cloths in a manger will one day be wrapped in cloths in a tomb after dying for their sins. My church is named Jesus el Buen Pastor, which means “Jesus the Good Shepherd.”
Each week, the immigrants at my church leave their work and worries to come worship their Shepherd who has been sovereignly guiding their journey to this country. Despite the unique difficulties that often come from being immigrants—long work hours, separated from family, and not accepted by many Americans—they exemplify what it means to worship. They worship Jesus with a contagious joy and passion because his coming means that no matter their present circumstances, they have a reason to sing! Nothing will stop them from worshipping because Jesus is the good shepherd who has come to lay down his life for them.
Second, the immigrants at my church have taught me what it means to be welcoming. In the Christmas story, baby Jesus is visited by wise men who have come to shower him with gifts. Hospitality means “love shown to strangers.” Even though the wise men were strangers to Jesus, they came from far away to welcome him into this world. They were guests who showed amazing hospitality to their hosts. As the story of Jesus progresses, it becomes clear that Jesus is the ultimate guest who has come to our country—to earth—to richly bless and welcome us. Our sin makes us strangers to God who are unwelcome in the kingdom of heaven, so Jesus left his heavenly home and came to earth to show us the hospitality of His healing grace.
Now, God’s people are told to “welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you” (Rom. 15:7). I have never experienced such generous hospitality as from the immigrants at my church. Even though they are guests in this country and I am a stranger to their language and culture, I have been richly welcomed into their lives, homes, and hearts from the moment I entered their community. These immigrants have shown me how to love the stranger by blessing me with gifts of prayers, hugs, and amazing food. Even though many Americans struggle to show hospitality to immigrants (most immigrants have never even been in an American’s home!), maybe God is bringing them to our country to teach us about the welcoming love of Jesus!
Now, God’s people are told to “welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you” (Rom. 15:7). I have never experienced such generous hospitality as from the immigrants at my church.
Finally, my church has taught me what it means to wander. Even though we sometimes define “wandering” as aimlessly walking through life, Christian “wandering” is different. To wander means to walk through the uncertainties of life trusting that God is directing our steps toward a good destination. Even if we cannot see exactly where He is leading us, we know He will eventually guide us to glory. In the Christmas story, there is a lot of wandering. Pregnant Mary wanders for many days to see her cousin Elizabeth. Then, she and Joseph wander to Bethlehem for the census. The shepherds, who are wandering in the fields at night, are met by an angel and change the direction of their wandering towards the newly born Jesus. Later, the wise men wander towards the light of the world as they follow the star. An angel tells Mary and Joseph to wander to Egypt as refugees with their newborn baby because of Herod’s plans to kill him. Years later, they wander back to Nazareth, their original home. Each year, Jesus’ family would wander to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. As Jesus grows up, it becomes clear that he will always be a wanderer on this earth. He is rejected by his hometown, wanders to Jerusalem one last time, and is deported from this earth when he is killed on the cross. But then, he wanders out of the grave and back to heaven because he was the God of the universe who had ultimately wandered to this earth to save us! Now, we live in the hope that one day he will wander back here to make all things right. During the holidays, it is tempting for me to forget the reason for this season and to instead either feel stuck in this broken world or secure in my worldly success. However, the immigrants at my church who have wandered here from other countries remind me that we are all hopeful wanderers—that this world as we know it is not our final destination. Like the shepherds, wise men, and Mary, immigrants teach us how to trust God to direct our steps wherever He leads. And like Mary and Joseph fleeing for their lives, immigrants declare that the deep difficulties we face—even being displaced from our earthly home—can never take away the hope we have. The Christmas story reminds us that we are wanderers, and immigrants can teach us how to wander with faithfulness. Perhaps some of them are performing the role of the star which led the wandering wise men, guiding others toward Jesus and the salvation he brings!
During the Christmas season, we love to welcome our earthly families into our homes and sit around a lit-up tree listening to Christmas music as we celebrate Jesus’ coming together. But as we do so, we should remember that one day, after our wandering is complete, we will be welcomed into our heavenly home to sit around the tree of life. There, we will worship the light of the world forever with our multi-ethnic family.
This Christmas season, I hope that you will let Christian immigrants—your forever family members—teach you how to worship Jesus, welcome like Jesus, and faithfully wander as you follow Jesus. Thank you, God, for bringing people from all over the world to our country to teach us about Christmas!