This is a slight adaptation of some thoughts I wrote last year. I thought they might be an encouragement.
Christmas Musings from my own experience and God’s Word for those separated from Loved Ones at Christmas
Christmas is apparently synonymous with home. Ask anyone what “the true meaning of Christmas” is, and you’ll hear home/family in the top three almost every time. We know that Jesus’ birth is the true reason for the celebration, but it just doesn’t feel like much of a celebration if we’re doing it all alone, in a strange country or town, or while loved ones are far away or even gone from this earth. Christmas without family or dear friends is just–well, it’s an attempt to smile brightly while the pangs of separation and the longings of homesickness are wrenching hardest in our gut.
Yes, Emmanuel means “God with us,” and deep in our hearts, we know His presence is real, and it is enough. But that doesn’t mean separation from loved ones doesn’t hurt.
But God has an answer. Reflect with me a moment, and let’s revisit the old Christmas story in the books of Matthew and Luke–what better place to find answers to Christmas problems than in the original Christmas story?
“And it came to pass in those days…” Perhaps you hear the voice of Linus from Peanuts in your head as you read those words. It’s a familiar tale to many and easy to take for granted, but I invite you read it like it’s the first time and to wonder with me, “Who was home on that first Christmas? Who was rejoicing with parents, children, brothers, sisters, friends, and loved ones?”
And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria. So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city.
Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child. So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.
Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will bethe sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.”
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying:
“Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”
So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, “Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart. Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them.
Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.”
When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.
So they said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet:
‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
Are not the least among the rulers of Judah;
For out of you shall come a Ruler
Who will shepherd My people Israel.’”
Then Herod, when he had secretly called the wise men, determined from them what time the star appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the young Child, and when you have found Him, bring back word to me, that I may come and worship Him also.”
When they heard the king, they departed; and behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy.And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
Then, being divinely warned in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed for their own country another way.
Who was home for Christmas?
The shepherds? No, they were living in the fields.
The wise men? No, they were on a two-year journey.
The angels? No, they were delivering messages or on choir tour all over Israel.
Mary and Joseph? No, they had received a government assignment to travel, so the slurs of gossip and embarrassment of parents that surrounded them at home were replaced by the shoves of strangers overcrowding a little town to the point that the travel-weary couple slept in a barn.
God? Was God home for Christmas?
No, He wasn’t, was He?
He left home for Christmas, made a new home, entered a strange culture with customs that would soon drive Him crazy, all to obey His Father’s will. All to share the gospel. All to identify with us, so He can whisper to us in the pain of mid-December, “I understand.”
He put Himself through a life of homesickness (He got up before dawn to talk to His Father), a frustrating degree of limitation (He was Omnipotence bound in infancy), raw experiences with loss (His stepfather died, His brothers mocked Him, and His true Father abandoned Him at the point of death), and even the humiliation of childish ignorance (He was the Word who spoke the word that brought light into existence, but He was a toddler who had to learn to speak Aramaic), so He could personally know what we endure and help us through it.
And now we are privileged to follow His example. We may leave our homes and fly halfway around the world, or we may befriend people unlike those we grew up with; we may be given a new position or ministry in which we have no experience, or take a job that lands us far from the familiar; we may stand helplessly by as loved ones are swept from our arms into eternity.
Whether the pain seems big or small, important or otherwise, if we are living for God then we will, in some way, be called away from the people, places, and tasks that are comfortable and be plopped down in the middle of unpleasantness. Sometimes it’s a choice, other times it just happens. But through it all, we can fix our eyes on Jesus and press on, “not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer.” (Romans 12:11-12). All to obey our Father’s will. All to share the gospel.
All to identify with Him.
As He lived our lives to know us, so we live His life to know Him. And the more we know Him, the more we love Him. The more we love Him, the more He rejoices in our love.
What better gifts could we exchange with our Father this Christmas? He gave us companionship and comfort in His Son. Let’s receive them–receive Him, and give Him joy in our love.
“[Jesus says,] ‘Here am I and the children whom God has given to Me.’…Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God…for in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted [or, tested], He is able to aid those who are tempted.” Hebrews 2:13, 17-18
“Yet indeed I count all things loss for the [surpassing worth of knowing] Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ…that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death.” Philippians 3:8, 10