Posted by: Philip Rushton | December 6, 2010

Perspectives on Christmas from a Sudanese Refugee

I watched a great documentary a couple of years ago called “God Grew Tired of Us.” It is about a group of Sudanese refugees who were given the opportunity to come to America. In one particular scene, these refugees make some observations about their first Christmas in America. I’ve embedded this clip into the post so you can watch it for yourself.

When we see the contrast between Christmas in America and Christmas in a Sudanese refugee camp it becomes clear that our culture often misses the point of the season. In America, Christmas has become highly commercialized. It is about gifts and presents and visiting Santa at the mall. Even the nativity story is sometimes commercialized and sentimentalized in such a way that the true power of the Christmas story is overlooked.

Mary is not a quiet, peaceful mother that basks in the glow of her newborn son. She is a feisty revolutionary who risks danger and even death to participate in Gods plan to overthrow tyranny and injustice. She sings of God, “He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty” (Luke 1:52-53).

The wise men were not included in the story simply to give us an excuse to dress our fourth graders in tin foil crowns at the Christmas eve pageant! They had to flee the wrath of Herod because their presentation of gifts before Christ showed that they had switched allegiances. They sacrificed social stability by worshiping the new king.

The shepherds are not just ambiguous characters that happen to be at the right place at the right time. The shepherds were there for a reason. These outcasts and misfits were at the inauguration of the new king because this new king had come for people just like them. When Jesus first begins his ministry in Luke 4 he explains that he has come with news good news for the poor and the oppressed.

When I see a group of poor refugees dancing and singing on Christmas eve i think – “this is what Christmas is about!” This is the way Mary celebrated when she wrote that song during the first Christmas. Christmas is a celebration that good news has arrived for the poor and the broken-hearted. A king has come to bring peace, hope, love and joy to a world overcome with strife and poverty. It is no wonder these refugees preferred the way they celebrated Christmas at home over the way it is celebrated in America. While many in the west try and find solace in sentiment, these refugees are placing their hope in the new born king!


  1. A fine corrective to the maddness of our US holiday. But your work is cut out for you if you think much change will happen between now and the 25th. So help us out here …..what change will it take to start a new way of thinking about all of our Holy Days. In the mean time , enjoy yourself at the mall…………….peace……..

  2. Hey Gil,

    I appreciate the reply. Gets to the heart of the matter. The reality is that we hear these challenges and yet quickly revert to our normal patterns. I don’t necessarily think that we have to purge our life of all the western Christmas traditions. There are even some virtues that can be found in the hustle and bustle of Christmas. The parade for example, was a great community event. It brought people together, and more importantly it brought families together. Instead of just sitting at home watching a movie, kids were out with parents enjoying an evening together. So I don’t think we need to get rid of everything.

    But at the same time I think we need to find ways to create space for worship during this season. Advent is really supposed to be like lent in that it is a season where we prepare ourselves spiritually and focus ourselves on worship. So I guess the answer is not necessarily to renounce santa, and shopping, and christmas parties completely. But we do need to find ways to recover the true meaning of the season in our lives.

    I think what we need to realize is that if we do change our focus our Christmas will be even more meaningful. There is a sense of loss when we turn away from unhealthy patterns, but it also leads to greater gain.

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