The Christmas spirit is in full swing, and it leaves missionaries in a good mood. We get to use feel-good church Christmas videos for lessons, we're helping out with the ward Christmas party, our zone and district meetings are in part devoted to practicing sketches and songs for the multi-zone conference, and paneton is rampant. Paneton is the beloved Peruvian delicacy for Christmas... a flaky, store-bought, often-burnt-on-the-bottom fruitcake. Stores evolve into paneton distributors and billboards are dedicated to spreading paneton cheer. As merry as Christmas is here, someone had to play the Grinch, and Serpost- our beloved mailing service- went on strike. Things might take a while to get through, depending on how long the strike lasts.
This week we had a good deal of fun with Vladi, our recent convert friend. We love his whole family, and we get to spend a good amount of time with them because one branch of cousins are investigators and another cousin is a less active, and they all live in two houses across the street from each other. On Saturday, we helped them bring out and clean their Christmas dishes and decorations to the popular vellensicos (Christmas Carols) of South America. Think of a nightmarish mix between the Smurf's Christmas album and Alvin and the Chipmunks. They don't have the same Christmas Carols here, except in the Hymnbooks. Afterward, we talked a bit more with Vladi and, in a Santa hat, I read and explained what happened in the Americas the day of Christ's birth in the Book of Mormon: the day and the night of light, the new star, and the prophecies of the coming Christ.
I love the Christmas story, and I worry that sometimes we turn the characters into caricatures. Joseph is a quiet figure in the Bible, but his story is powerful to me. I can imagine how conflicted he must have felt when his fiancee explained nervously she was pregnant from a divine miracle. In Matthew, we learn he didn't immediately accept what probably seemed to be a pathetic lie to cover an obvious and hurtful truth. As a 'just man', he came to the conclusion he would shield her from the full brunt of the law, yet let her go. Only after he thought of these things-probably in agony- did he receive the angelic verification of Mary's story. He solved the problem the best he could before the great relief of the truth. Then began a new worry in his life, which probably lasted until the end: a fear of inadequacy. Firstly of the Savior he would need to raise, and secondly to Mary who he had previously chosen to reject and disbelieve. What guilt he must have felt when he explained they needed to travel to Bethlehem for his taxes when she was many months pregnant! All such feelings probably reached an apex while he watched helplessly in the stable as Mary gave birth, recognizing the best he could give the King of Kings and his personal queen was the equivalent of an abandoned parking garage. He prepared a little manger, perhaps thinking of the crib he'd been hoping to make back home. I'm sure he prayed a good deal. And I would assume he received a good deal of comfort, and a welcome into the divine family. I don't think any of us can give much more. He asked us for a broken heart and a contrite spirit, and Joseph is an example of this to me. Humility is a recognition of the world as it really is...that things are much more magnificent outside, amidst God's plans and people and potential, than they are within our worries and desires.