Berlin is ablaze this week with festive Christmas markets and showy carnivals. Crowds huddle together at these markets to warm their toes around fires as they warm their hands on mugs of glühwein (spiced wine). White lights are strung across row after row of wooden booths as vendors line up to sell their wares on these cobblestone streets. Ornaments. Gloves. Jewelry. Handmade toys. Crepes. Waffles. Soft pretzels. Roasted chestnuts. Candied almonds. Bratwurst. And lots of alcohol.
Across the street from the massive Berliner Dom (Cathedral) is the largest of these winter market carnivals. Music blasts along Unter den Linden as people from around the world brave the cold air and snow to sample German beer before whirling high in the air on terrifying carnival rides. Crowds stare up into the sky, watching the brave (or drunk) cling to shoulder restraints as they shoot up into the dark sky on mechanical arms and spin so fast that even the people on the ground feel queasy.
We joined the sea of locals and tourists last week to stroll through this carnival. Karly rode the merry-go-round. We ate waffles smothered in powdered sugar and bought candied hazelnuts and hand-carved ornaments for gifts.
As we walked down the last row of noisy rides, we started to turn the stroller when something caught our eye. Tucked back in the darkness, away from the flashy lights, was a small nativity scene with Mary and Joseph kneeling beside Jesus in the manger.
For a moment, the nativity looked out of place in the row of carnival games and rides. After all, the carnival was an entertainment mecca. Not the typical place to reflect on Christ. Then I realized it was the perfect place for a nativity. In the midst of our crazy world, Jesus was born in a dark, lowly manger far from his home.
We stopped and stared at the scene, quietly thanking God for sending His Son to die for us and every person at that carnival—German, American, Russian, Turkish, British, French, Indian….
During this season, it’s easy to get caught up in the lights and food and all the shopping. But as I quiet my heart and mind, I’m reminded that Jesus is here. Everywhere. He’s in the midst of the chaos and pounding music and frantic shoppers rushing home.
As my family and I enjoy this season far from our home, I’m grateful for Christ’s birth and death and resurrection. And, even when the true meaning of Christmas may be tucked back in the dark alley behind the parties and presents and busy décor, I’m grateful for a holiday that still celebrates the birth of our King.