I have two students for the priesthood from Timor Leste staying with me for five weeks. For the past eight years, I have had many Timorese stay with me, usually for three months intensive English. When they arrive in Australia, the cultural shock is significant, especially the obvious wealth of our country.
Shopping for clothes for these guests is always an interesting experience and as I discovered, more difficult in the lead up to Christmas. I couldn't help but reflect on the contrast of shopping for the basics of life and the frenzy of consumerism and how the message of this season is lost. In a very short space of time, the simple gift giving of St Nicholas has been replaced by a shop until you drop mentality. I heard recently that in excess of 50 per cent of presents received at Christmas are not needed by the recipient.
The 20th century invention of Santa Claus with flying reindeer, residence at the North Pole, etc, now takes centre stage. The focus is on children and undoubtedly it is a wonderful time for children. At the same time, Christmas should be a time for adults to quietly reflect on the love of God. The child born of Mary is actually God himself. To accept in faith this truth requires the humility of a child and poverty of spirit.
The celebration of Christmas in Timor Leste will be vastly different from Australia but I know where its impact will be more deeply felt.