Every year we've struggled getting into the Christmas spirit, because there’s no hullabaloo about Christmas. You don’t hear Christmas music on the radio and in every store. There are no huge blowout Christmas sales. No Christmas parades. No Charlie Brown Christmas specials playing on the television. No Salvation Army Santas. The cops aren't pulling you over and giving you money like in the US. Nobody decorates their house.
This year, though, we’re noticing some Christmas cheer. Downtown Taoyuan is aglow with Christmas lights. There are Christmas trees in every store. Some stores have photo opportunities where you can pose in a Sleigh or something winterish. There are only two things missing. You don’t see any fat white guys (or Asian guys for that matter.) in red suits, ho-ho-hoing their way through lines of children dying to tell them what they want for Christmas and there’s no baby Jesus.
In Taiwan, Christmas is a secular holiday. Well, actually Christmas isn't a holiday at all. Christmas is just a sales opportunity for the big chain stores. You don’t see little shops that people open up under their homes decorating for Christmas.
Personally, I’m into Christmas. Please don’t make me listen to Christmas music, though. I don’t want to hear “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire.” Spare me Alvin, Theodore and Simon, singing their little Christmas song. Do not “Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow,” I moved to SoCal all those years ago to get away from that. I’m not into the post-Christian era Christmas. I’m a Christian and I’ll tell you why I appreciate Christmas, so much.
As a young man, I was successful in my field. In high school, I started and operated a number of recycling centers at local high schools. I got out of college and went to work for a waste hauling company, as a recycled materials collector. I drove a pickup truck and pulled a trailer collecting cans, bottles and newspapers on the street. After 20 years in that field I ended up as the Director of Recycling and Resource Recovery for the largest privately held waste hauler west of the Mississippi River. I was on the board of directors for California Resource Recovery Association. I was 35 years old.
I lived in a beautiful condo, had a hot car and a lot of money. My neighbors would point me out to their teenage sons and tell them, “If you work hard, you can be like that.” The problem was that my life was a mess.
I was an alcoholic. I drank myself to sleep every night. I had isolated myself, because social interaction interfered with getting drunk. I was lonely, miserable and full of self-hatred. I knew the things that I had done to make myself "successful." The way I had treated people: The lying, the cheating…all of those things that you don’t feel good about.
Then I was diagnosed with Limb-Girdle Muscular Dystrophy and I thought to myself, “If this is what life is all about, who needs it.” I spent a number of evenings trying to kill myself, but couldn't drink up the courage to do it.
An acquaintance invited me to see a drama, in which she was starring. She was a waitress at my favorite restaurant. So I went. The drama centered on Mexican gangsters: The old school Mexican gangsters, “Cholos.” I had very little experience with gangs. In the suburban environment where I grew up the toughest gang was the Parent Teacher Association. But the drama struck me, because it was my life in dramatic form: A successful young person whose life had gone downhill.
At the end of the play a young man preached a short sermon and used the line, “Jesus took a bullet for you.” In my spare time, my mind drifted back to this line over and over. I went back to that church the next week and ended up giving my life to Jesus.
That was 23 years ago. The change in me was apparent immediately. My sisters had been taking turns calling me to “check up on me.” They were worried that I would do something drastic. They couldn't get over the change that had taken place in one day.
I no longer drink alcohol. In fact, I haven’t had a drink in 23 years. I’m not a recovering alcoholic…I’m an ex-drunk. I committed myself to Jesus and patterned my life after my pastor’s life. Now I’m a missionary and pastor because I want to see what happened in me, happen in other people’s lives.
I appreciate Christmas because it is an opportunity to honor Jesus. We celebrate the birthdays of presidents, not because of their birth but because of what they did in their lives. I celebrate Christmas because of what Jesus did with His life. He sacrificed His life, to free us from the bondage and self-destruction of sin. He took a “bullet” for us.