God With Us
Christmas is only ten days away. I am in my warm kitchen on a cold evening, surrounded by darkness and snow, sipping my absolutely delicious chai tea latte. My favorite traditional holiday songs are playing, and like I often do on days off while cleaning and organizing, I have been contemplating and reflecting.
This time of year has been my favorite since I was a kid running into the living room early Christmas morning to check under the tree, singing carols with my sister at the top of our lungs, being with family, and doing nothing but playing games, eating together, and making memories.
The last time I was in Canada for the holiday season was seven years ago. I can still hear the joy, smell the turkey and baking, see the lights strung, and sense the wonder and awe that is wrapped in the manger.
Over the years, being far away from all that I know to be familiar and “right” this time of year, I have gotten into the rut of almost feeling sorry for myself, getting so terribly homesick that it hurts, and being jealous at everyone else going about the usual traditions without us.
Then something different happened this year.
A wise and caring friend helped me to get some perspective; I thank the good Lord above for her words. She urged me to remember what the first Christmas was really about, “…your season is more pure, and a reflection of how Christ really came: lowly, with no fanfair, to the meek and humble, to a couple alone, without family close by, and the God of all the universe revealed first to a young woman, way outside of her comfort zone, but obedient to what God had asked of her.”
Here in Siberia—where the 25th will pass by just like any other day, where we cannot find a turkey because of food sanctions, where no family of ours is closer than 4000 km away, where most people party on New Year’s and are not really sure what Christmas is actually about—here in this place now called “home,” Christ has come. He is HERE—in the sad eyes we see on kids’ faces at the orphanage, amidst the forgotten ones, walking among the thousands in our city who do not know Him yet, right here in our home, and in the hearts of those we worship with every Sunday. Christmas is every minute, each day: back in my home country, right where you are, and right where I am.
If our journey had never brought us to Altai, a remote part of this country, we would have missed the opportunity to tell our English students the Christmas story, or give them New Testaments and sing “Silent Night” together, or throw a party every year for the orphanage kids, or learn all the traditional carols in my second language, or truly come to appreciate and value old traditions while learning to create new ones. We have been able to introduce our local friends to cranberry sauce, cooking a turkey and stuffing, and hanging stockings—the things that were so normal for me growing up, but strange and foreign for them.
This coming weekend we are celebrating Christmas at our English Club and also throwing a fun party (with gifts and food and craziness) for our group of girls at the orphanage. I am praying that the God of all creation, the Father who loves each one of them so deeply, will get their attention and fill their hearts with awe at the miracle that Christmas is, the miracle that young Mary experienced: Christ coming to be in our midst.
Perspective changes everything—just like hope changes everything. I do not have to be in a rut, or get jealous, because I will be home for Christmas, but for now it is here. Next time I am in Canada it will still be Christmas. It is Christmas because God with us, Emmanuel, is true for me now and will be then. My home is in Christ, who has met me and spoken truth today, here in my kitchen in this little Siberian village.
My prayer for you is the same: somewhere in the hustle and hectic-ness (is that even a word?) of the season, may you know the hope and grace that came wrapped in a manger.
Question to consider: What do you do to keep the perspective that Christmas is “God with us, Emmanuel” and that your “home is in Christ” when you are longing for the traditions/comforts that you are missing?
About the author
Tonia is originally from the prairies in Canada, and has been living in Russia for 13 years. She and her husband, Alexey, moved to southern Siberia in 2008 and it has now become home for them. They are parents to three adopted kids, who have joined their family at various times over the last four years. They pastor a church plant and look for open doors in the community to connect with people and share life with them. Tonia loves teaching English, traveling, learning how to be a mom, listening to people's stories, good coffee, and writing.View all articles by: Tonia Pankova
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