In 1981 I spent my first Christmas away from my family. It was just my husband, our 7 week old baby girl, and me. Instead of snow, we had rain. Instead of cold, we had humid heat. Instead of pine and fir, we had palms and orchids.
No malls decorated with pretty lights adorned our tiny village. No Christmas carols played. No turkey. No cranberry sauce. The neighbours did put up artificial Christmas trees with lights that flashed - during the 3-4 hours in the evening when we had electricity.
It was a stark and lonely season for us. On Christmas Eve, Tim and I sat on our little couch, with our tiny baby between us and we both wept. And I knew something had to change.
I realized then that although the wonderful story of Jesus' birth was central to my Christmas celebration, I had relied on a lot of peripheral fluff associated with my culture to "get into the Christmas spirit." And I began planning.
Christmas, in order to be properly celebrated, must begin in my heart. I love the season of Advent because I take time to focus on the coming of the Christ Child - what that means to me personally, and to the world. Hope, peace, joy and love. These are the gifts of
Christmas, the essential core of why Christ came to earth. Mankind has often twisted and deformed the message of Christmas into legalism and dogma that lies far from God's intent of a gift given in love.
Returning to the center of Christmas, celebrating the presence of God in this broken world, is at the heart of my Christmas celebration. Once I prepare my heart for the joy of "Immanuel, God with us, God with ME" , the decorating, the baking, the presents, and all those peripherals of my cultural celebration can flow joyfully rather than dutifully into my life.
One of the first things I put up, on December 1, is our nativity set, purchased in 1982 in a small village in Ecuador. Each piece is intricately hand-carved from walnut wood. Today it sits on my mantel, not yet surrounded by greenery and lights. Because the heart of Christmas is Christ.
God with us. God with me. God with you.