This has been the hardest Christmas season of my life.
That’s not saying very much – most of my Christmases have been anything but hard. I love everything to do with Christmas – the music, the decorations, the Christmas tree, the food, buying wrapping and getting presents, etc.
But what I’ve always loved most is being able to spend extra time with my family , both because I had a break from school, and because when I was a child my family always traveled to visit family members I rarely saw. Which brings me to the reason this has been a hard Christmas.
Last summer, I moved to Taipei, where I will be working for at least two years. I enjoy my job and have many wonderful friends here. And yet … I find it hard to be completely happy because I still miss my family and friends from home. A lot.
When the Christmas season first started, it felt like I had an open wound. Anything that had to do with Christmas felt like someone had just touched that wound, sending a spasm of pain and loneliness through my heart. One day, I felt slightly depressed all day because someone had sung “I’ll be Home for Christmas” in chapel that morning. (I still think it was a weird choice because it talks about both being home and snow. Most of our coworkers are from Taipei, so they would not have snow, even though they will be home for Christmas. Those of us whose homes would have snow, wouldn’t be home for Christmas, except for two foreigners who took vacation. So the song really only applied to the two out of the 250 or so people in the room. But I digress.)
This Christmas season has included lots of good things too. I’ve grown less and less homesick as it has progressed. I’ve really enjoyed several parties with friends here, as well as an amazing Christmas performance put on by my coworkers. My roommates and I put up a Christmas tree, and I love seeing it every time I go into the living room. I went to a church service on Christmas Eve where we went onto the roof of the church and sang carols by candlelight. Spending Christmas in Taipei has been a great experience overall, so I don’t want it to sound like I’m always miserable here.
Nevertheless, the moments of homesickness have made me realize that, for all my talk about how I know that Christmas is about Jesus’s birth, in practice much of my love for Christmas comes from things other than the point of the season.
This isn’t to say that parties, food, music and family are bad – far from it. These are good gifts that God has given us, and we should receive and enjoy them with thanksgiving. But as I wrote in my Thanksgiving post, being grateful includes recognizing these blessings as grace – things we don’t deserve and wouldn’t normally get, not things that we are entitled to.
For me, that means enjoying Christmas even without my family and the other things that I don’t have here. Because as important and wonderful as family and all the trappings are, they are not something I’m entitled to, and they’re not what Christmas is about.
Christmas is about God becoming human and experiencing everything we experience. That includes the joys of delicious meals and time spent with family and friends, but also the sorrows of loneliness and poverty. This Christmas, I am taking comfort in the fact that God Himself knows what it is like, not only to move to a new country, but to do even more. He moved to a whole new planet, a whole new way of existing (as a physical, mortal human being). The Son of God, Who is so close to His Father that they are a single being, lived as a human, communicating with God only through prayer and the occasional message that God sent to him. And the purpose for which He came was to eventually be completely abandoned by the Father as he hung dying on a cross for us! As His follower, I enjoy the blessings of a new family with God as my father and the promise of perfect peace and eternal life. And this is true no matter where in the world I am.
So this Christmas, I am choosing to rejoice. I am basking in His incomprehensible love that gave up everything for me. May this love surround you and fill you with true joy this Christmas and throughout the year.