I hope you and those you love are filled with warmth and joy. I hope that Jesus’ outrageous love melts the walls in your heart, and that love overflows to those around you. I hope you don’t feel the intimidation and burden of creating the ‘perfect American Christmas’, but rather enjoy time spent with others, as we all practice loving each other.
This year will be so different. My family, who I’ve spent Christmas with every year of my life, will be about seven thousand miles away, along with everyone else I know and love. Sometimes I think about that fact, and it makes me more sad than I want it to. Every year at home, we haul a huge fir tree into the living room, and our cat gains a new jungle gym. Presents are put under it one by one until Christmas Eve (which is present-opening time, for us Germans) comes. My Dad will encourage us all to sing Christmas carols together, while my sisters complain. And then, of course, the present opening begins, and we all go to bed full of chocolate and perhaps in our new socks. And Christmas has been that way for as long as I can remember.
This year, our tree is tiny, and fake. No cat. Since I’m living with Americans, there will be (for the first time ever) a Christmas morning. We’ll go to church on Sunday morning, with the rest of South Korea. There will be no Dad to inspire half-hearted Christmas carols, and no mom and sisters to begrudgingly sing along. No family to open presents beside. It’s almost a sad thing. It almost doesn’t feel like Christmas at all.
Until I remind myself (in a tone that sounds a lot like those cheesy Christmas movies) that Christmas isn’t about that. As much as I hate to admit it, I’ve bought the Christmas lie. We’ve heard over and over that “it’s not about the tree, the presents, or the snow. It’s about celebrating Jesus.” Of course. Everyone would agree to that in a heartbeat. But… in all reality, family and traditions are such a staple of my Christmas experience, I wonder what I actually believe. Since Christmas isn’t about those added things, why does it feel so alien when those things are removed? And what will this strange Christmas consist of this year? Where will God show up, in this holiday celebrating his son’s birth?
Turns out, God shows up a lot, if you ask Him to.
Not in the Christmas tree, family traditions, or the comfort of my sisters, but in small displays of big love from God’s children.
Every year I ask God to show me what Christmas is about, with the hope that I’ll inch closer to understanding this great mystery. I’ve got all its parts: a savior, the humble birth, the bravery of Mary, celebratory Angles and the world being forever changed; but I desire to grasp the meaning of the story in its entirety.
I walk to and from work every day, which is about 3 miles, so I have a lot of time to think about these things. And here’s what I’ve come up with:
Since God is love, all love is a reflection of God. James says “every good and perfect gift is from above…” Christmas is about God loving us so much that he gave us His son, to live a human life, to be an appropriate sacrifice for our failings. So Christmas is about the love of God, right? Hmm… then maybe I’ve haven’t been missing out on Christmas at all. Love has shown himself to me in a great many ways this season.
Like when I found out that the molasses used in the cookies my mom and I bake every year would be impossible to come by, a stranger from the internet (who owns a bakery and buys online) meets me on the other end of town, and places a jar of the stuff, some powdered sugar, and a card retelling the wonderful news about Jesus Christ in my hand, waving away my attempts at paying her back with “Ah, don’t worry about it. It’s Christmas”.
Or when my friend 한별(Hanbeol) and I stayed up until 4am, staring at the snow and sharing the crazy love story about how Jesus made himself known to us. “I grew up being expected to go to church, so when I went to college, I stopped. But instead of feeling free, I felt guilty, and empty in a way I couldn’t understand.” She later came to know Jesus on her own at a retreat, her eyes wide as she told me how Jesus Himself came to her that day, and she then knew who He was.
Or when a relational breakthrough was made with one of the kids I work with at a community center. Older than the rest, he’s always “too cool for school”, and my games and lesson plans are boring for him. I’ve been trying to figure out a way to connect with him for 3 months, and last week, we finally gained ground while kicking around a dirty soccer ball outside together. He talked to me, even though it meant he had to use English to do it. Later that day he even helped me solve a conflict between the younger kids.
All these circumstances show love in different forms: the hospitality of sharing food with a perfect stranger, the intimacy and friendship of late night testimony sharing, and the joy that comes from forging a new cross-cultural relationship. All of these situations show God – because every one of these good gifts is from above, a grand display of the hospitality, intimacy, joy, kinship, and love that comes from our Father, and His son, who came to earth to live, laugh, get frustrated, and share stories with us.
And that’s a lot better than a real tree any day.