Luke 2: 1-7
“In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. This was decreed in Latin from Rome, translated into Greek as it reached the Middle East and interpreted in both Hebrew and Aramaic for the local community to understand.
And everyone went to their home town to register. So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David switching from a distinctive Galilean accent of Aramaic to a passable Judean accent or Hebrew.
He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. Joseph speaking Greek to the Roman officials registered himself and Mary as a married couple.
While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.”
God brought salvation to us by becoming the incarnate Jesus – who was a member of a non-English speaking Palestine Jewish culture. The baby Jesus would have heard a variety of languages - from the Aramaic speaking shepherds, Greek speaking wise men, to the occupiers speaking Latin and Hebrew from the religious leaders. Two thousand years ago, Salvation became incarnate in a mix of cultures and languages.
Christmas has Middle Eastern origins, but at the same time reflects the different cultures of the people who acknowledged Jesus as Messiah. The Roman Empire was in effect a multicultural society, utilising Greek and other languages to effectively communicate its intentions while also allowing local culture and language to be practiced.
Hospitality is an important part of Christmas, as Joseph and Mary demonstrate through their welcome of visitors of various languages (Luke 2:16-19, Matthew 2:10-11). In Jewish culture, hospitality to visitors was essential (Genesis 18:1-8, Deuteronomy 10:19, Leviticus 19:33); Hebrews 13:2 says, “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.”
As we celebrate this year, the message of Christmas speaks of and to various cultures and languages. When we break barriers and interact with different cultures, we provide an opportunity for the Church to reach out to a wider section of the population, providing hospitality to new friends.
As we decorate our Christmas tree (German tradition), send our Christmas cards (first commercially produced in England) and look adoringly at the nativity scene (made popular by St Francis of Assisi, Italy), let us not forget the hospitality of the original multicultural Christmas in the midst of all the traditions we have adapted from other cultures.
Feliz Navidad! (Spanish)
Joyeux Noël! (French)
Krismasi Njema! (Swahili)
Kiṟistumas Vāḻttukkaḷ (கிறிஸ்துமஸ் வாழ்த்துக்கள் ) (Tamil)
Sheng Dan Kuai Le (圣诞节快乐) (Mandarin)
Kirîsmes u ser sala we pîroz be (Kurdish)
Christmas Mobarak (Farsi)