The Christmas holidays are very important for me and my family. We do not live near each other so face-to-face contact during the year is limited. But we make up for this during the Christmas holidays.
The only time I have not spent Christmas with extended family was as a boy, as part of a missionary family, in Papua New Guinea. In those days the overseas missionaries only received a trip to their home country once every three years. This was one of the small sacrifices we made as a family to see Jesus’ messages spread among the people of Papua New Guinea.
This year I walked the Kokoda Track in PNG with an ADRA group raising funds for The 10,000 Toes Campaign to stop Type 2 diabetes in the South Pacific. Most people know the Kokoda as an iconic walk made famous by the Australian soldiers who eventually defeated the Japanese along this track in the latter part of 1942. However, the first foreigner to walk the track was Fijian Seventh-day Adventist missionary, Peni Tavodi.
When Seventh-day Adventists came to PNG in 1908, the country’s governing body had already assigned land areas and people groups to the other churches—no territory was available to Seventh-day Adventists. After further insistence, Seventh-day Adventists were given the Koiari people, based on the Sogeri plain and living in the mountains behind.
What is now known as the Kokoda Track was the Koiari highway through the jungle. At the time these people were cannibals, they practiced sorcery and were very hostile to others. As I climbed the steep mountains over roots and rocks, slid down the muddy drops and crossed the treacherous fast mountain rivers I thought of Tavodi and the Australian missionaries with him, such as Septimus Carr (and his wife) and G F Jones (and wife).
As a small group, these missionaries conquered the treacherous terrain and entered hostile villages with Jesus’ message of peace. They worked in healing—prayer, health teaching and basic medicines to eradicate disease—and teaching the children to count and read and understand the loving Creator God. It took eight years before anyone accepted the message of Jesus.
"[Jesus] gave up all of heaven and the close association with the Godhead to be one of us."
I think of their sacrifice and courage and the many Christmases they spent away from family and friends, for the sake of Jesus and His good news.
However, even these sacrifices pale into insignificance compared to the sacrifice of the One who inspired them—Jesus. The biblical Christmas story reveals that Jesus was God in every way—eternal, all powerful, all knowing, ever present, just, but most of all, loving.
Humans on earth had rebelled and needed someone to overcome the tragic disease of sin that led to eternal death. Someone needed to live above sin and conquer death. So Jesus came, just as everybody else comes into the world, as a baby—but a baby who would save the world from sin and death. He gave up all of heaven and the close association with the Godhead to be one of us. He was born like us, but as our Saviour—that is why Jesus brings “joy to the world”.
Luke 2:10,11 (ESV) records, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord.”
I spent those Christmases in PNG with my dad, mum, brother and sister, in visiting areas of the country where we had not been before and where God had brought new people groups to Jesus. And I climbed the Kokoda Track this year with my son and daughter-in-law. I have never been abandoned by my family, nor been lonely at Christmas, but, best of all, I have a hope and a future beyond sin and death because Jesus became a human and conquered these issues on my behalf. I thank God for the Christ of Christmas who enables us to be adopted back into God’s family forever.