Merry Christmas everyone!
There's quite a bit of pressure about being a missionary writing home on Christmas. It's like you're supposed to have some profound insight into "the true meaning of Christmas." I've thought hard and I really don't have that, so instead of writing a Christmas sermon, I'll just tell you about what my Christmas season has been like.
As we know from last week's (slightly whiny) email, Ukraine doesn't do Christmas like the States. By which I mean, they don't really do Christmas. Consequently, it's been a rather interesting December. Without the usual external forces pointing towards Christmas, it was more-or-less up to me to make Christmas happen for myself. I was somewhat uncomfortable to realize that, unless I did something, December could come and go without Christmas coming. As it turns out, in and of itself, December doesn't bring a focus on giving, on being kind, on doing service or on Christ any more than any other month does.
But, of course, I craved Christmas. I've never even been one to celebrate Christmas especially emphatically, but I suppose I never realized what a nice little place it has in my heart. I missed nativity sets in homes and creches in yards. I missed Christmas songs - I found myself walking down the street singing songs I learned for Waterford Lower School Christmas concerts (I Saw Three Ships Come Sailing In, anyone?). I missed reading Christmas story books like Auntie Claus and The Grinch and all those lovely Christmas books that always teach the same message "it's better to give than to receive." I missed the slightly tacky news stories about Christmas miracles and displays of kindness around the world. I missed being in church meetings where everything said relates back to Christmas. I missed Christmas lights.
So I set about making sure Christmas would come. As it turns out, that's no small task, because it means cultivating that Christmas spirit (which I always thought was a cliche phrase, but now I realize is a real thing) internally and individually. It all started with Handel's Messiah, which is on my absurdly-random-assortment-of-music missionary iPod. I don't know if Christmas's can have themes, but if mine does it'd be the words from Handel's Messiah (and Isaiah), "For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given." This Christmas, those are the words that I haven't been able to get rid of and that have invited in my Christmas spirit. The language is so specific and beautiful; it reminds me to be grateful that the Christmas story, and all of Christ's life, was done "unto us." It sounds like a cliche, but as I thought about that, I didn't crave Christmas anymore. Lights and songs and storybooks don't quite matter so much because "unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given."
And that is what my Christmas has been about; gratitude for the miracle of Christ. I believe and am grateful to believe that the child was born and the son was given unto us. That means everything to me. I'm grateful that his atonement and gospel and church "work" in my life - make me better, happier, more at peace, more nearer to the person I want to be. I'm grateful for the example he set and that I can strive daily to become more like him. And I am deeply grateful that I have the opportunity to be a missionary, to tell people what I believe, to invite them to find out, too. Being able to share the love and goodness I find through faith in Christ is the greatest privilege and the best part of my Christmas.
So yes, Christmas came anyway. And I intend to keep it here a good while yet.
All the love,