Hope for the (not-so-)Happiest Season of All {The Grove: Keeping Watch}

My sister-in-law sent me a message this week inquiring about how my Christmas shopping was going and if the kids were getting in the Christmas spirit. I wasn’t sure what to say. Despite the fact that we put up the tree a solid week before Thanksgiving, there is little to remind us of the happiest season of all. I have not begun my Christmas shopping and no amount of prayer could bring a white Christmas to Kathmandu.

Outside of my home, I am yet to see any holly or mistletoe. No halls are decked and we certainly don’t hear any jingle bells. We do hear bells ringing out to other gods bright and early every morning, but that inspires different feelings. Beyond that, the season we find ourselves walking through this Christmas happens to be more difficult and dark than merry and bright. There is uncertainty about the future and few things that lift the spirits for more than a few moments.

Part of me thinks I should be better about cultivating this Christmas spirit and making meaningful traditions in my home. The other part of me knows that some seasons are for getting through with gritted teeth and faith in Jesus. While it doesn’t culturally feel like the right thing to do this time of year, I don’t really think I’m missing the point. Maybe I get a free pass on our passport-culture’s seasonal cues anyway, since I live outside of it now.

Long ago, the world groaned in its longing for a Savior. Sinners needed Jesus to take the burden of sin off their backs. They heard He was coming. They prayed, anticipated, and kept watch for His arrival. They walked life leading up to His birth with gritted teeth and faith that the son of God really would come and heal the greatest plague of man more than a few years later. When I consider this, I feel like I am in pretty good company this year.

Maybe you feel disillusioned by the Christmas season in 2018. Perhaps you sympathize with the little Who girl asking Christmas why it hasn’t shown up for you in the way it has for others. You could just be like me, walking the streets of a city which does not acknowledge this season or the Savior (bonus points if it’s over 80 degrees there). Thankfully, God doesn’t call us to a place or an event — He calls us to Himself.

In the bright and cheery seasons and in the darkest days, He draws us closer into fellowship with Him.

The God who put on flesh sympathizes with the hardships that grip our hearts and rip our eyes away from Him. But we miss something truly wonderful when we don’t fix them right back where they belong. Even in the darkest seasons, we have a bright and blessed hope. As a baby in a manger He proved His devotion to His divine work, and on the Cross He poured out His great love for us. We know the end of the story. It’s good and it’s for us because He is good and He is for us. In this season, if we are longing for Jesus, we are honoring this occasion in the right way.

Christmas carols and sugar cookies will never fill the heart like the One who created it. I’m learning that tradition is a poor substitution for a true relationship with Jesus Christ. This is true in every season — though especially needful if this may not feel like the happiest season of all for you either.

I’m purposing to light the candles, trim the trees, and fire up my oven for stress-inducing baking parties with my kids. When the string-lights dim and all I see is the darkness, I will find joy as I cling to the hope only Jesus provides. I may even do all my shopping on Christmas Eve this year and bask in the emptiness of the local shopping mall.

’Tis the season.

Does your host culture observe Christmas? How do you cultivate Christmas tradition in your home? In what ways do you train your heart to focus on Jesus during difficult seasons?

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10 Comments

  1. Katelyn Comer December 6, 2018

    I loved this Amber! It’s so easy to feel less than jolly far from “home” where everything is different than how I feel like Christmas “should” be. I’m blaring the Christmas music until I can hopefully really feel a bit Christmasy! Lol

    1. Amber December 6, 2018

      I do much of the same this time of year. Prayers for a joyful Christmas for you!

  2. Patty Kerns December 6, 2018

    This is my second year on he field and it is the hardest. Last year I flew to Spain to meet a friend serving on the other side and we walked the lighted streets and enjoyed seeing places neither of us has seen before. But this year is different. I have decided to stay in my host country and to perfectly honest I am struggling with that decision. So I have been praying about what to do here. I have always enjoyed baking even though it is 85 degrees outside. Jesus came to give himself for us so I am going to bake and give away cookies-to neighbors, friends, and coworkers. My prayer is I can share Jesus with cookies.

    1. Amber December 6, 2018

      Oh, Patty. My heart goes out to you. I thank God for the wonderful memory He gave you last year. I pray He will be near and bless those around you through your thoughtfulness.

  3. Ruth December 6, 2018

    Seasons like this are why I love the church season of Advent. Traditionally, Advent isn’t just a countdown to Christmas. Advent is a season of quiet, longing, lament, and expectation. During Advent we lean into the idea of the already-and-not-yet, we know Jesus already came and we long for the day he will return to bring an end to all of the brokenness in this world.

    Although I’d been celebrating Advent for a long time, the year before I came to the field Advent was a really difficult time for me. And I relished how even though the culture was all about being merry and bright, in the church and in my own walk, I could lean into the waiting and longing. The themes of Advent became more real and sustained me that year, and has continued to shape me in the years since.

    1. Amber December 7, 2018

      Honestly, Advent is a relatively new concept to me but I do feel drawn to it. I appreciate its acknowledgement of lament while also anxiously awaiting relief. I hope to practice its traditions going forward. Thanks for your input, Ruth.

  4. Mandy Carpenter December 6, 2018

    Hi Amber, I totally understand, our family also lives in Kathmandu, so I can completely identify. Even as I play Christmas music and have the decorations put up in our house, when I hear songs like “It’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas” I just laugh. Because nothing could be farther from the truth here in the city.
    Keeping my eyes on Christ and the reason for the Season is necessary even though this is our 5th Christmas here. So nightly we sing carols and read our advent reading, and seek to focus on our Savior.

    1. Amber December 7, 2018

      Mandy, I love the traditions you’ve established that help your family focus on Christ. I wish our local scene was more Christmas friendly! But sounds like you’re doing a Great job making it merry and bright. God bless.

  5. diana boot December 7, 2018

    struggling with bilharzia and treatment; with such low energy it is hard even to think about Christmas. But have been focusing on a series of advent devotions; it has been a good reset and in line with how I am right now

  6. Amber December 7, 2018

    Diana, I’m sorry to hear you find yourself walking through physical struggles. I know how they take their toll emotionally. I pray the Lord will give you strength and allow you to rest in Him this holiday season.

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