Today was a special day for a variety of reasons, but one of them was that I was able to contribute a reflection for the first Sunday of Advent at Sanctuary Church.
We’d originally talked about doing devotionals with the congregation, but we ran out of time, so instead we decided that each of the four Sundays of Advent would be assigned to a few writers in the church and we could contribute a reflection to go along with a verse or theme for that day.
I volunteered to go first.
While composing my Joyful list yesterday, one thing I didn’t explain well was that I’d been praying for inspiration because I had no idea what I was supposed to say—how long it should be, what it should be about, how it would be presented in the service, what direction to go. The only thing I knew was the theme (“I’ll be home for Christmas”), an image (a wreath), and a Bible passage (Romans 5, about suffering leading to character leading to hope). When Morgan came over, we prayed together and I endeavored to finished writing by 5:00pm so we could keep the plans we’d made. It was 4:30 or so when I started.
I’m about to share what I wrote, but I want to say a couple of things.
1) Andrew (the pastor) did not preach about Romans 5 at all. Instead, he talked about John 14, where Jesus tells his disciples that “my Father’s house has many rooms, and I’m going ahead of you to prepare a place for you,” which matched up so well with what I’d written. His whole sermon was the perfect lead-up, and neither of us planned that.
2) He ended with the reflection as a final note, after emphasizing the fact that God’s house—and God’s heart—has plenty of room, and we are all invited to dwell there.
3) It was really awesome to see how God used these words to reach people. I hope that in sharing it here, something will speak to you as well.
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 of 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 miraculous Jesus 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. “Don’t you just LOVE Christmas?” I asked him, 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 will find yourself coming home for Christmas, too.
cover photo by Sheri @sincerelysheri