We all love tradition. The comfort of revisiting memories made repeatedly over time gives us a bit of peace in a hectic world.  Christmas is the time for traditions.  How many of you have ornaments on your tree so worn and ugly you could not give them away at a rummage sale? Precious treasures made by young children in school or church given to parents with excitement, pride and love. Things made of popsicle sticks, cotton balls, misshapen and sculpted papier-mâché’ or clay. Other traditions of shopping trips, getting together at church and with family; cards sent and received from friends far and away make the holidays incomplete if they are absent. Do you attend Christmas Eve service every year? Do you always reluctantly give in and let one present be opened on Christmas Eve night? Christmas sweaters, holiday candy and stocking stuffers all make Christmas as comfortable as an old down comforter on a cold windy night.

Our first Christmas in Jamaica seemed to be hard with everything being so foreign. Sweating in the October heat writing Christmas cards to allow for mail to get them home on time seemed way out of place. Decorating banana trees does not have the same pizzazz as a real pine smelling Christmas tree. Tradition was turned all upside down and its absence really left a noticeable empty spot. Putting up a small tree with a few presents for the kids and Jamaican friends was about all we could manage that seemed anything like home. Asking what traditions Jamaicans had gleaned no real answers but “Grand Market Day”.

Grand Market Day apparently happened on Christmas Eve beginning about dark and lasting to who knows how long. The best we could figure out was everyone was there and you shopped for gifts for others. Sounds like the day after Thanksgiving to me. Oh well, when in Rome! December 24th arrived as did 5:00p.m.; with Sam and Abby in tow we walked into town to experience Grand Market Day. And a surprising experience it was for sure.

The streets were packed with festive cheer and curb to curb people. The mood was infectious and fun. Business owners who normally bargained with a sharp pencil and stingy attitude were greeting everyone with friendly smiles and enthusiastic handshakes handing out candy and small gifts to everyone close.  Musicians seemed to be playing on every corner with lively songs encouraging spontaneous dancing, laughter and joy. Food and drink abounded with people buying selling and sharing what they had. Little kids that normally begged from us actually gave me pieces of candy. In this throng of humanity people received us as neighbors, visiting and making us welcome not for what we could give them but for who we were. We were melded into the life of the town making us the newest local characters and recipients of the best Christmas gift we could have asked for – acceptance.

Jesus came on the very first Christmas as a visitor to a strange and foreign land. Throughout His life He sought just one thing from every person He encountered – acceptance. He came out of love offering an incomparable sacrifice to save us all, an indescribable gift! I can imagine Him among the throngs of people at Passover, the festive atmosphere, buying and selling and the sharing of food. Musicians trolling the streets becoming catalyst for spontaneous dancing, laughter and joy as people reflected on God’s goodness in delivering His people from bondage so long ago. But these people did not recognize Immanuel, God with us, rejecting Him so vehemently they called for his death. Because of this act, though, the door was flung wide open for everyone for all time to be able to accept Jesus as a personal savior from their sins. The greatest gift I ever received as a stranger in a foreign land was acceptance. Acceptance is still the desire of Jesus’ heart today and the gift from us he will most treasure. Have you accepted Him?

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This daily devotion is written by John Key

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