“I’ll be home for Christmas” is a song I refused to sing my entire first term. I wanted to scream at the stereo, “I will NOT be home for Christmas, and you can NOT count on me!” I realized that, for the first time in my life, I would be spending Christmas away from home. I found myself profoundly homesick for home and family. I found the “Christmas-Across-the-Miles” cards to be not exactly the most heartwarming of Hallmark’s cards.
There is something uniquely painful to me about the pangs of homesickness that come during the Christmas season. I miss snow, Christmas lights, candy-cane-mocha lattes, and even the mall. Take all those away, though, and I realize that what I really miss is home and family. My parents still live in my childhood home, so the pull to that physical place where I spent over twenty Christmases is strong. I have vivid memories of waking up to a living room packed with gifts that were not there the night before. I remember swearing that I saw Rudolph fly overhead (only later to realize that our house is in a flight path for a small airport!). Home.
The deepest pull, though, is the pull I feel to my family. I miss having breakfast with my parents on Christmas morning, watching “Home Alone” with my brother, and experiencing the joy of being together so effortlessly. I miss watching my nieces and nephews open their presents and watching my kids run off to be with their cousins. There are only so many traditions you can try to keep alive over Skype. There is something so special about being together at Christmas, and I am grieved every year that we are apart.
It is not that we do not enjoy Christmas here in Asia. This is my children’s childhood; as a dear friend told me early in my career, “We don’t want our kids to remember Christmas as the day Mom cried.” To this end, I have made special efforts in our family to build traditions that can move with us. The tree is always put up the day after Thanksgiving. We play Christmas music, and even if it is 80 degrees outside, we drink hot chocolate! Like many families, we also have a birthday cake for Jesus, which somehow turned into strawberry shortcake on Christmas Eve. We bake sugar cookies (with the air conditioning blasting), and we find special ways to reach out to our friends and neighbors who do not know it is Christmas—or even what that means.
For us as global workers, Christmas can often be full of mixed emotions. As nationals become interested in this “western” holiday, there are so many amazing ministry opportunities. Christmas caroling, cookie baking, the candy-cane story, living nativities—you name it, we have done it all at Christmas! I even remember playing an angel in a play for a public school in Taiwan when I was seven months pregnant (perhaps I should have played Mary??).
This is perhaps the most paradoxical part of Christmas for me. I walk out my door on Christmas day, and the Chinese around me are still going on with their lives like it is any other Thursday. This both frustrates me and grieves me. I am frustrated because my fleshly self wants Christmas my way—like back home with my family. I want to walk out the door to snow and white lights, and head over to my parents’ house. At the same time, it grieves me, because that is precisely why I am here. To quote the Bob Geldof song, “Do they know it’s Christmastime at all?” The truth is, they do not.
I wonder if Jesus ever felt like this. As He grew, I wonder if He ever felt like yelling (in a godly way), “Do you not realize Christmas is here? I am Immanuel—God with you!!” You see, it hit me that Jesus left HIS home at Christmas, in order to bring us Christmas. True, it was not “Christmas” in the same way that we think about it, but that thought gave me comfort and encouragement. It was on Christmas that Jesus chose to leave His home and His family. He left the splendor of His throne for a manger; golden streets for dusty ones; His perfect Father for imperfect parents; angels for disciples; perfection for a fallen world. Jesus spent His first Christmas away from home.
He sets the example of leaving home at Christmas to incarnate Himself and His love. More than this, He left His home at Christmas to MAKE His home inside of us. In this sense, we are never away from our true home at Christmastime. While we must leave our physical home and family to incarnate Christ’s love in our host cultures, because of Immanuel we have our true home in Christ with us wherever we go. This is newsworthy enough to call us away from our home and family to proclaim the good news that Christmas brings. The fact that God left home to make His home in us has the power to change an ordinary Thursday into Christmas for anyone!
Of course, the pangs of homesickness still come. While our home is here now, there are still times I find myself thinking that I am spending Christmas away from home. I am comforted to know that my High Priest can sympathize with my weakness. He knows what it means to be away from His Father and His home on Christmas. I am also challenged to live incarnationally so that my friends and neighbors know it is Christmas time, and what that means.
You may be relieved to know that I can now listen to “I’ll be Home for Christmas” without feeling the need to yell at the iPod. The last line of the song is “I’ll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams.” My Christmas dream is that, by following Jesus’ example of being away from home at Christmas, someday I, along with many of my Chinese friends, will be truly home for Christmas. May this be true, both here as we experience Immanuel making His home in us, and also in our forever-home in heaven.
Question to consider: What are some ways you deal with homesickness at Christmas?