This week, Pavani Paul from India contemplates the miracle of Christmas, when God came to dwell among us and with us. We rejoice that, by the Holy Spirit, Jesus now also dwells in us.
India has a rich and ancient Christian heritage. According to tradition, the Apostle Thomas planted the first Indian church in modern-day Kerala, along the subcontinent’s southwestern coast in 52 AD. Today, India’s Christians number 28 million and live primarily in the country’s northeastern and southern states. According to a 2011 census, India’s 1.38 billion-strong population is 80% Hindu, 14% Muslim, 2% Christian, 2% Sikh, and 1% Buddhist. In recent years, the Hindu nationalist agenda of India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party has threatened the democracy’s religious freedoms, emboldening violence against Muslims, Christians, and other religious minorities.
Pavani is pursuing a PhD in Old Testament at the University of Toronto (Wycliffe College) in Canada. Her dissertation focuses on the psalms of lament as a means for healing from suffering and trauma. As a convert from Hinduism, Pavani understands the loneliness and rejection experienced by many new Christians in India. She seeks to comfort first-generation believers through her research and offer fruitful ways of wrestling with God amid doubt and hardship.
For over a decade, Pavani has served as an administrator and teaching faculty at the Center for Global Leadership Development of Southern Asia Bible College (SABC). Upon graduation, she will return to SABC to help expand and strengthen the school’s Old Testament Department. Pavani and her husband Jacob have a seven-year-old son, Prakyath.
Pavani shares the following devotional and prayer requests:
I am Pavani from India. I was born and raised in a city in Southern India called Vijayawada. Although just a little over 3% of the city’s population identify as Christians, that is a mighty population of 40,000+ Christians! So, during Christmas, celebration is clearly visible everywhere.
Christmas is one of the busiest times for us since we are all involved in one activity or another in church. It is also the time of the year when we can hold gospel prayer meetings in public with the least amount of resistance. We truly witness the birth of Christ in the hearts of many.
Kids and adults alike love to see Santa Claus, sing Christmas carols, and enjoy Christmas sweets and savories – sometimes, this can go on for an entire night until the break of dawn. Though I have not lived in my hometown for two decades, I would always return there for Christmas, until two years ago when we came here to Toronto. I miss that incredible spirit of Christmas.
The message of Christmas is simple but profound! John 1:14 beautifully captures that message of Christmas: “And the Word became flesh and tabernacled among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth.” This is pivotal to the Christian faith.
The Word Became Flesh
We celebrate Christmas because of that profound and extraordinary event of God becoming a human being. He created the entire universe and all that is in it by the power of his word. John captured that powerful act of creation for his Greek readers in 1:3: “All things came into being through him, and without him, not even one thing came into being that has come into being.” This Almighty God became flesh and came to dwell in our midst on Christmas day.
Why did such an almighty God choose to become a man?
- Because he loved us. John 3:16 reads, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son.” He made the earth his mission field.
- To give us deliverance from sin and all the consequences of sin (Isaiah 42:6-7).
The Word Tabernacled Among Us
This word “tabernacle” takes us to the Old Testament, where God asks Moses to build a tabernacle, a dwelling place for God in their midst. It is a place where God met with his people, revealed his will, and guided them in their wilderness journey. Exodus 40:33-38 reads: “He (Moses) set up the court around the tabernacle and the altar, and put up the screen at the gate of the court. So Moses finished the work. Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled upon it, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle.”
One can imagine how Moses and the people of God could have felt when they witnessed the all-powerful God coming down in their midst with such intensity. God’s shekinah revealed to them that a loving God, who cares, guides, and forgives, dwells in their midst. It is always a unique experience to witness God’s presence.
John used the same word “tabernacled” to tell us that the same presence of God had now come in the fullness of time to dwell among us in the flesh. The people of the New Testament witnessed God’s presence in a much more unique way than the Old Testament people.
Mary had the privilege of carrying the Lord in her womb. The ones who recognized him as the Lord experienced the dwelling of God in their midst in a special way. The disciples recognized it when he calmed the storm. The blind man witnessed it when his hands touched his eyes. The lady caught in the adultery felt it when, instead of throwing stones, he said, “Go and sin no more.” He walked through the streets of Jerusalem and dined with his disciples. How fortunate are those who recognized and witnessed the Glory of God walking and living in their midst!
Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 6:19, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God?” So, all those who receive him will have the Lord dwelling in their hearts. It is such a privilege. Along with that comes the responsibility of keeping our hearts pure, for the Almighty dwells in our little hearts. He is with us, and he is in us. The joy of Christmas is that this great Lord dwells in our hearts.
As we celebrate Christmas, would you continue to pray for the safety and protection of churches in India? Recently, it has been easy for Hindutva activists to get warrants accusing churches of coercive conversions. However, the court has stayed them temporarily. We hope for religious freedom to prevail.
Also, pray for Southern Asia Bible College, where I work. As things get back to normal, the college hopes to return to in-person learning.
Pray for my home church in Vijayawada, located at the foothills of a Hindu pilgrim temple, where my parents minister to first-generation Christians.