Except for the large Coca-Cola sign with a larger than life Santa in downtown Cochabamba, you wouldn’t know it was Advent in Bolivia. It’s strange for me to be at the beginning of summer and realize that it is Advent. It has always helped make the Advent season more meaningful for me when some of the mythos surrounding the nativity is interrupted with reality. Gordon Atkinson first did this for me with his A Christmas Story You’ve Never Heard. RLP fills in some of the gaps in the Christmas narrative using historical and cultural knowledge that gives the story of Jesus’ birth some grit and humanity.
Similarly in Bolivia the Advent season seems somewhat ordinary without the frenzy over Black Friday (or my preferred alternative Buy Nothing Day). The shops are not covered in holiday decorations of tinsel, lights and red and green… Okay, after visiting the grocery store for the first time there are a few christmas decorations, but not the USA excessive version. I don’t hear Bing Crosby or Wham! crooning sweet holiday tunes on the radio and in every store (although it is playing pretty frequently at our house). There are lots of things I love about the holiday season. I love winter and fires. I love snow and the festivities. I love Christmas music and being with family.
However, the thing that has really made the Advent season more meaningful for me in recent years is the anticipation and reflection on the birth narratives. Whether it’s the revolutionary Song of Mary, unpacking the meaning of a bastard Savior or contemplating a God who crosses over to the Other. Context and historical background have helped make the story more meaningful for me.
So, it’s helpful to be in another culture this Advent season. I realize that God did not enter history in 20th century North American culture. It was into an occupied Mediterranean Jewish peasant society. What does that mean? It also forces me to ask what it means for Jesus to be born in Bolivia. How does the narrative of liberation speak to the particular history and context of the poorest country in South America? What does it mean to the indigenous Quechua and Aymara speaking people here that make up more than half of the population? It is these questions that bring the birth narratives to life around the world, both for those moving cross-culturally and those who find that the story speaks to their particular context, language and history.
May the God who transgresses boundaries and borders cross over to you this holiday season!