The following adaptation of
the biblical story of Christmas was given to each of nearly 200 students.
The underlined words were blanks to be filled in (a technique called
'cloze' in ESL). The italicized comments indicate how knowing the Chinese
culture helps me to better understand the biblical culture. After all, the
biblical culture is more Eastern than Western. The nativity set shown in
the photo came from the Amity Christian Arts Center. The cow is a water
buffalo and the figures have Chinese characteristics. I used this device
to illustrate the story as I told it in six classes this month.
The Christmas Story from the Bible
Luke 1,2; Matthew
About 2000 years ago, a young woman
named Mary was engaged to a man named Joseph.
In China, as in long ago Israel,
engagement is a serious matter. In China, if a young man and woman speak
of each other as "boyfriend" or "girlfriend" to
others, it means they are essentially engaged and expect to marry. Chinese
do not casually date.
One day, an angel appeared to Mary and
said, "You will give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus.
He will be the Son of God."
Matthew tells us that the angel told
Joseph that Mary's child is to be named Jesus, which name means 'Jehovah
is salvation." Chinese names always have meaning, and are given as an
indication of the parents' hope for the child's future.
government said everyone should return to his hometown to be counted, so
Mary and Joseph went to Bethlehem. When they arrived, there were no
rooms left in the inn.
In China, if
you ask someone his hometown, he may not have ever been to the place he
names. I once asked a student where he was from. He answered, "Heilongjiang,"
which is the northernmost province, next to Russia. I learned later
that he had never been there, but that his grandfather was from there.
This is the common practice in China, to think of being from the place
where your ancestors were from rather than just the place
where you were born. The Bible says Mary and Joseph went to Bethlehem, not
because they had been born there, but because their ancestor David was
So, Mary and
Joseph had to stay in the stable with the animals. That night,
Mary's baby boy was born. She wrapped him up in cloths and laid him in the
Since living in China, I
have learned that newborn babies are wrapped tightly in a long strip of
cloth, wound around so that the baby's arms and legs cannot move.
According to pictures, they look like little cocoons lying side by side.
It seems quite likely to me that the "swaddling clothes," or
"cloths" as the modern translations put it, that Mary
wrapped the little baby Jesus in was very much like that.
night, some shepherds were in the fields taking care of their
sheep. An angel of the Lord appeared to them. The angel said, "Today
your Savior was born in Bethlehem! He is Christ the Lord. You will find
him wrapped in cloths and lying in a feeding box."
name "Christ," is really a title, not Jesus' name, and it
follows the name, just as it would in China. In Chinese, I would be
called "Yang laoshi." My Chinese surname is Yang, and "laoshi"
means teacher,, or a Mr. Wang would be addressed as "Wang xiansheng,
with xiansheng meaning mister."
the sky was filled with angels saying, "Glory to God in the
highest!" The shepherds hurried into Bethlehem. They found Mary and
Joseph and baby Jesus. Everything was just as the angel had said. Then the
shepherds went back to their sheep. As they walked, they praised God and
thanked him for everything they had seen and heard.
have traveled in Inner Mongolia and Ningxia, and have seen flocks of sheep
in the fields, with the shepherds nearby watching over them. It is easy to
picture the shepherds going into Bethlehem on foot, just as Chinese
shepherds would likely travel.
far away, came wise men looking for Jesus. They had followed his
star all the way to Bethlehem. When they found Jesus they worshipped him
and gave him gifts of gold, incense, and myrrh.
is a gift-giving culture and no Chinese ever visits someone without
bearing a gift.
your Christmas be meaningful as you celebrate the birth of Jesus, along
with brothers and sisters in Christ around the world.