As a Latino girl growing up in the United States, I clearly remember Christmas as a time when my grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and close friends would gather at my Tia’s house. Despite each individual family’s economic status, relational issues, and brokenness, we had great anticipation of what the day would entail. Upon entering the house, we were received with a complete assembly line of ingredients to make tamales and an aroma of masa (dough) and various meats cooking on the stove that permeated the room. Family members greeted one another with kisses and hugs. Some were embraced longer than others as this was the only time they had seen each other throughout the entire year. Sounds of the melodies of our rich Colombian salsa, cumbia, and vallenato, accompanied with the passionate voices which were engaged in an array of conversations, set the tone for the rest of the afternoon.

Food was the common denominator that brought unity amongst the family. At that moment, it did not matter if there was not enough money to cover the bills of the previous week or if there was conflict in some of the marriages. What was important was that our family was together, in one accord, working towards one goal. We were determined to make the tamales in preparation for Nochebuena (Christmas Eve). Tamales bridged the gap in the generations as family members of all ages were present at the assembly line. Crying babies were carried on their mommy’s hips while other children savored the samples of the delicious chicken given to them by their grandparents and great-grandparents. My grandmother found ultimate satisfaction in sharing her personal secrets for the perfect tamale. This was the legacy that she wanted to impart to us.

Not only were tamales a bridge to the generations in our family, they were the basis of our Christmas celebration. Tamales are the vivid recollection of our family’s unity during Christmas time. Similarly, many of us hold special memories of Christmas traditions deep in our hearts. They may involve walking through the decorated malls purchasing presents for our loved ones. Perhaps, it is sitting around a Christmas tree enjoying the delicious smell of freshly baked cookies, while sipping on some hot chocolate or gathering around the wood-burning fireplace to sing Christmas carols.

Likewise, in our local churches, it is evident when the Christmas season arrives. Pastors passionately encourage and challenge us by sharing the different perspectives on the Biblical account of the birth of our Lord and Savior. Children ministries use their creativity to narrate stories about how there was no room for Jesus at the Inn and how He was born in a messy manger. Worship teams carefully choose song sets focused on this glorious celebration to enhance the church experience. All of these various pieces come together for the purpose of declaring that “Christ has Come!”

Because this is such a powerful declaration, it merits a time of personal reflection. When Christ has come into our lives, it is nearly impossible for us not to experience some type of change. When we look at our life in its current state, can we genuinely state that Christ has come? Have we invited Him in to the chaos of our hearts or has He simply been a superficial part of our festivities? Regardless of the situation in which we find ourselves, Christ has come to give us an abundant life (John 10:10). He has come to be part of our mess and to deal with the inner most part of our being. He has come to mend the brokenhearted (Psalm 147:3). He has come to heal the sick and raise the dead (Matthew 10:8). He has come to forgive us of all our sins and cleanse us from all wrongdoing (1 John 1:9). Many times these, amongst the thousands of innumerable promises of God, are echoed in our church circles or we read them in His Word. Nonetheless, they may be a distant sound in our background, rather than a strong resonance in the forefront of our lives.

So what do we do? How can we get to a place where the declaration of “Christ has come” becomes a reality in our lives? First, we have to pause and check our hearts. Do we have any unresolved issues that need to embrace that Christ has come? As we allow Christ to scan our hearts, spiritually speaking, we have to be ready for residues of the past to surface. This is not always as painless as we would like it to be. We can easily become frustrated with the idea that we have already dealt with that particular concern and disregard its importance. The spiritual scan of our hearts can also detect present issues at hand and fears that we unknowingly have of our future. In any event, being open to the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives is key. He will highlight those matters that need our attention. Secondly, we must be willing to act. Action is required to live the abundant life (James 2:17). It is not enough to simply press in and determine that something needs our care. We have to be in tune with the voice of the Holy Spirit whom will instruct us on how to proceed and be obedient to His direction.

As we prepare to celebrate the birth of our Savior and enjoy some delicious tamales, may we clearly remember that wherever we are "in the assembly line of life", whether we are running, crawling, or dragging ourselves along, Christ has come to give us hope and journey with us. Christ has come to leave us his legacy that we may live a piece of heaven while we are here on earth. May this not be the only time of the year that we embrace that Christ has come. On the contrary, let us savor His goodness all year long (Psalm 34:8). My prayer for us is that we are intentional this Christmas season and experience that Christ has come in every sector of our lives. ¡Feliz Navidad! Christ has Come!

Tanya Paniagua is a credentialed minister for the Assemlies of God, a Pastoral Counselor at 7th Steet Church in Long Beach, and is currently pursuing her Doctor of Education in Community Care and Counseling: Pastoral Care & Counseling (Ed.D.) She is married to her life teammate, Rudy Paniagua and they have four incredible children and a beautiful daughter-in-law.

[ This article is also available in español. ]