Celebrating Christmas in the Caves

Some say the stable where Jesus was born was a cave used for animals rather than a structure. In that part of the world, that would not have been unusual.

You know the story: Mary and Joseph were sent to the stable because there was no room for them at the place of lodging where they inquired.

Still, there is no room except for that in caves for some people, literally.

A friend of mine is serving in Afghanistan. A few days ago, someone asked him about Christmas in the part of the world. My friend, a fellow West Virginian, replied that Christmas doesn’t really exist there.

Officially, it doesn’t. Afghanistan is a militantly Islamic nation. The story of Jesus as Christians know it is considered fiction there. Dec. 25 is just another day for Afghans.

Occasionally my friend gives folks he knows glimpses into what life is like for many people in Afghanistan. Frankly, justice as we know it doesn’t really occur there. It’s not all that difficult to get away with murder, providing the victim is a woman. There’s no such thing as religious freedom. And many Afghans’ lives are ones of desperation more severe and unyielding than what even the poorest Americans endure.

Some Afghans live in caves. Really. They burn donkey dung to ward off the bitter winter cold. They don’t have enough to eat. Most of them have access to no medical care.

All that was true until the Americans showed up.

Life is still a day-to-day battle, literally for survival, for many Afghans. But life has been eased somewhat because at least some of the Americans cannot bear the suffering they see.

My friend helps several cave-dweller families. He is especially solicitous of a woman living alone with her children in a tiny cave. Her little girl had heart trouble requiring surgery.

One of the most beautiful pictures I’ve seen for some time is of the child, with her top pulled up to display a scar on her chest. Thanks to be compassion and persistence of the Americans, what might have been a death sentence for her has been canceled.

Here’s the thing: My friend and, I have no doubt, most if not all the Americans who are helping the cave dwellers are practicing Christians. In other words, they take their faith seriously.

Out of sensitivity toward the Afghan culture, displays of Christian faith are limited among the Americans. That’s one reason my friend said there is no Christmas in Afghanistan.

But he planned to celebrate Christmas today, by visiting his new friends – shunned in a way by people of their own faith, yet embraced by American Christians.

I wonder how many of the Afghans have ever heard the story about Mary and Joseph being sent to a stable in a cave. And I wonder if they’ve heard of the good shepherds and the wise men who went to that cave.

May God bless and keep the Good Samaritans of the caves, and those they help.

My friend is wrong. Christmas is being celebrated today in Afghanistan – with every trip he and his comrades make to the caves.