By Johnny Connelly
The quote from Lonely Planet had sustained me for years: “If you can’t laugh while bumping your head against the roof of a truck, you shouldn’t be in Africa.”
We shouldn’t have been here.
It was Christmas Eve, 2010 and we’d been bouncing along Ethiopian dirt roads for several days. The boys were restless, I was disappointed and Janice was seething because of a sign she’d spotted at our hotel: “Visit the rock hewn churches of Lalibela and assure your place in heaven.” It made her cringe. The usually stunning scenery was by now mediocre, and so finally, 400 miles from home we unanimously decided, ENOUGH. We turned the vehicle south determined to drive through the night so we could spend a portion of Christmas day in Addis. The grand adventure was over.
I don’t recall the sun setting, but it did. Darkness followed as it always does. Up the hill, down the hill. Everything was normal. But com’on, this was Christmas Eve. It should be special!
And then it happened. It was nearly midnight, perhaps a few minutes past. Up the hill, down the hill, around the bend and THERE THEY WERE. Three sets of eyes, glimmering in the highbeams, heads a-bobbing.Three camels, led by shepherds, clip-clopping the winding road north, bound for Sudan.
While Janice roused the boys, I turned the vehicle around so we could gawk in disbelief. It was magical. Seeing Santa pass overhead would have been anticlimactic. Camels and shepherds, on a mountain road, in the middle of nowhere, at midnight, on Christmas. It was so… unexpected!
The scene posed a stark reminder of Whom we celebrate. That Jesus left heaven, shunning a multitude of worshipping angels to become our Saviour. That Eternal God became a baby, a servant and a sacrifice in order to pay the wages of sin. It too was unexpected. We anticipated a king who would conquer; we received a servant who was crucified. May this Christmas provide an opportunity to turn around and once again be reminded of his amazing plan: that by becoming a baby, he would die on a cross, rise again, and thereby assure our place in heaven.