Today is the first real snow of the season here in Rhode Island, and as I’m hunkering down in my room, fully clad in fleece and sipping hot chocolate, I wanted to share a recent reflection I wrote.
Last week I was asked to contribute a piece of writing for my church as part of the Advent series. Advent is the time of the year that leads up to Christmas, four weeks of hopeful anticipation, contemplation, and stillness amid crazy amounts of shopping and decorating, parties and general insanity, and I volunteered to contribute a reflection for the first Sunday of Advent.
The only thing I knew, however, was the theme: “I’ll be home for Christmas,” and that the first week, my week, was symbolized by “A Wreath on the Door.”
I have no strong feelings about a wreath on the door, but evidently it means hope.
So, I did some research on wreaths, their evergreen nature and why they’re round and how they were coopted from the Greeks and the Romans who wore them on their heads to show victory and status. Now they’re a symbol of the everlasting hope of new life in the dead of winter.
But that ended up not being what I wrote at all. The evening before it was to be presented, I sat down to write it (naturally), and I asked a friend to pray with me about it. What I wrote surprised me as much as everyone else the next day, but it just so happened to go perfectly with the sermon Andrew gave about finding home in God’s heart.
So now I’m sharing it with you. A few people were kind enough to offer feedback and said it was just what they needed to hear, so in case that happens to be you this year, I want to offer these words. I hope you find some sort of encouragement, and, of course—amid this dark, cold winter—a sense of hope.
Advent 1: Home For Christmas
The theme of “I’ll be home for Christmas” is a very literal one for me. It’s the only time each year I know I’ll get to visit my parents in the town in I grew up in—a quirky little city called Roswell, New Mexico, 2,400 miles from where I live now in Providence, Rhode Island. I look forward to this trip all year long.
Christmas has always been my favorite holiday: the colorful greens and reds of wreaths and garlands, the sparkling Christmas lights, the beautiful classical songs, the entire spirit of Christmas. There is a feeling of anticipation at the upcoming joy of family traditions: Christmas Eve with friends who make homemade Mexican food, midnight mass with candles and carols, late night present-wrapping, and the dawn of Christmas morning—the stillness and quiet before everyone else wakes up, the transformation of the tree from a couple of presents to many, the soft glow of morning light, the mystery of it all.
And that’s not even the Jesus miracle part!
But during my last year in graduate school, I was planning my vacation home and waxing poetic about Christmas to the person I was dating at the time. “Don’t you just LOVE Christmas?” I asked, ready to launch into my Christmas glee, when he responded with a firm, “No.”
His response stopped the rest of the words from pouring out of my mouth. “Wait. What? You don’t like Christmas?”
“Nope, can’t say that I do.”
“Why?” I said so incredulously I came across as if I were accusing him of being a robot, with my true, underlying question seeping through: “What kind of a human being doesn’t like Christmas?”
He shrugged. “After my parents divorced, it wasn’t really something I looked forward to—racing from one house to the other, deciding who got Christmas Eve, who got Christmas day, the inevitable fighting because us kids would be late wherever we ended up…” his voice trailed off. Then he put on the mask of a smile. “It’s not a big deal; it’s just not my favorite time of the year.”
There are a handful of times in my life in which my world has been split open with the unveiling of a truth I’ve been oblivious to, and this was one of those times. In my head I thought, “Is that how my other childhood friends whose parents were divorced felt, and I just never noticed?” I thought about my friends who’d lost family members—parents, siblings, grandparents—and I wondered, “Is Christmas a time of sadness for them, too?”
My heart broke because of my own blindness, my ignorance to all-too-common situations that point to the broken world we live in, one in which pain and suffering are all too real, and how sometimes they are most highlighted in the midst of other people’s joy.
It is those friends to whom I write today. I want to say that it is for you that Jesus came into this world—the hope and light of life—to create a family of us all: the fatherless, the foreigner, the orphan, the widow, the poor, the suffering, the heartbroken, the lost. He came so that we might have everlasting joy, the kind that transcends our circumstances and our past, and offers us a seat at the table, an embrace at the door, and a warm welcome home.
My prayer is that this holiday season you can find hope in the Christmas story, because the Bible, at its most basic level, is a love story—one that was written for you. May this Advent lead you down a well-trodden path to a place of anticipation and joy—that no matter where you plan to be this year, you find yourself coming home for Christmas, too.