By: Keith Turman
My son Ben lives in Chengdu. A few months ago, son Joey said, “Mom and Dad, I’m not coming home for Christmas. I’m going to China to see Ben.” Not long after Joey’s holiday betrayal, our son Ross said, “Hey Mom and Dad, I’m going to China too. So I won’t be in Waynesville for Christmas.” A few hours if not minutes later, my wife Chan said, “I want to go to China.” So, I’m abandoning my just married daughter Clair who said, “I’m staying home with my new husband.”
The application process for getting our visas wasn’t complicated for the rest of my family, but I ran into a bit of trouble. The Chinese government is suspicious of me. “Mr. Turman, what exactly are you planning to do while you are in our country?” Well, I’m going to eat lots of dumplings and spicy stuff. I’d like to see the Great Wall, the Terra Cotta Warriors, and maybe a panda. And I want to get up early in the mornings and drink coffee with my sons. Do you have good coffee in China?
I had to submit two promising letters. One was a personal letter promising not to engage in any religious activity while I was in China. The second letter was from our District Superintendent promising that I was not engaging in any religious activity on behalf of the United Methodist Church. Ben told me to stamp the letters with red ink. Red is China’s favorite color, and official letters usually have lots of red stamped on them. So the staff scrambled to help me find an inkpad, and Barbara Iverson notarized my promising letters with a red stamp. It looked very official. The clerk at the Chinese embassy surely loved it, because I’ve been given permission to spend Christmas in China. They’ll be suspicious on my arrival, but I plan to behave.
Herod was suspicious when Jesus arrived. Christmas in Bethlehem threatened his grip on power, so he caused a bit of trouble. But baby Jesus survived and became man Jesus, and he caused some trouble of his own. Those who had been waiting for centuries watched with both suspicion and hope. They hoped this man was the Promised One, but he didn’t behave like the king they were expecting. He was too peaceful and inclusive. It seemed he would rather have dinner with the Romans than organize an army to fight them. With Jesus they experienced love and grace. He brought a different kind of freedom.
My son says they will probably be watching. I’m okay with that. The world has always been watching the church—some are skeptical and suspicious, others are curious and hopeful. Some say, “This can’t be true,” while others say, “I sure hope this is true.” Well, I know that it’s true. I know that God comes into the dark places of our lives. I know that God’s love and grace sets us free to live in love and grace. And I know that God expects us to behave like Jesus. So I’ll behave this Christmas in China. I will keep my promise—I won’t cause any trouble. But maybe Jesus will cause some trouble of his own.
“By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” –Luke 1:78-79