The plane was full when I flew from London to Tirana in Albania yesterday. Almost all of the passengers were families, and I assumed that they were travelling home for Christmas. A small number of them had British passports and queued with me at the immigration post for foreigners, but the majority went through the control points reserved for Albanian citizens.
I knew a little about Albania before I travelled. I knew that Enver Hoxha, the former president, declared Albania to be the world’s first atheist state in 1967. What I didn’t realise was that Hoxha also presided over the destruction of many places of worship. Those that were not destroyed were converted for other uses.
So I was a little surprised when my taxi driver told me that Albania was 70% Muslim and 30% Christian. He advised that he was a Muslim, but admitted to never having entered a mosque. Apparently only 10% of Albanian Muslims visit mosques. Given those figures I asked the taxi driver about Christmas. I expressed surprise that there were Christmas lights and Christmas trees in the city. He confirmed that a Christmas holiday is taken in Albania and that the people on my flight were almost certainly returning home to be with their families during the Christmas period.
So despite the efforts of the former communist state, and the Muslim Ottoman invaders who preceded the communists hundreds of years earlier, there is still Christianity in Albania, and the Christmas lights have not been extinguished. Sadly, the meaning of Christmas is probably lost on most of the population. No difference to the UK or the USA or anywhere else then!
If the only lights that shine this Christmas are Christmas lights then how will the lost ever find Jesus? If Jesus does not shine through our lives regardless of our circumstances then what right do we have to celebrate anything, let alone Christmas? Because a celebration of Christmas that excludes Jesus is comparable to a Muslim majority nation hanging out the Christmas lights in recognition of an annual holiday.
In 2 Corinthians 3 the Apostle Paul speaks about being letters from Christ, written not with ink but with the Holy Spirit, written not on tablets of stone but on human hearts. At the end of the letter Paul talks about being transformed into the image of God with ever-increasing glory. Could we look at our lives and regard ourselves in the way that Paul describes? Or does the glow only come from the Christmas lights that adorn our homes this time of the year?
You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. (2 Corinthians 3:3 NIV)
Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:17-18 NIV)