As an American, when I think of Christmas, I think of Santa, snow, lights, Christmas music, good food, Jesus' birth, presents and family. Christmas is the holiday we start counting down from 364 days ahead of time. We spend millions of dollars every year on the season, making sure this time of year is set apart and special.
It's one time a year where we all gravitate toward family; we make it a priority to get together and stop with our normal daily lives to enjoy the things we normally take for granted. There are so many reasons I love Christmas.
My Christmas away from 'Christmas'
Five years ago, in 2011, I joined Youth With a Mission and did a Discipleship Training School. During the second half of the 6-month course, our big group split up into smaller teams and traveled around the world to do missions. My team and I went to Vanuatu, which is where I spent my first Christmas away from home.
As we began to count down the days until Christmas, I was trying to convince myself it was coming. The calendar was telling me one thing while the warm weather was telling me another. Instead of the usual snow under my feet, I found sand between my toes and our Christmas tree towered 1 foot short in a sand pile instead of rising to the top of the ceiling in my family's living room.
Although I was missing the normal things I associated with Christmas, most of all, I was missing my family. To me, getting together with my family was the best part of Christmas and this year my family was over 10,000 miles away. As I thought about the approaching holiday, I began to get sadder as the date grew closer. I thought it may have been better to just pretend like it wasn't Christmas at all.
A challenge from the Lord
As I was having a little pity-party one day about not being able to enjoy a 'normal' Christmas, the Lord asked me a question. He said, "Laurinda, is Christmas still worth celebrating? [Even without your family?]"
When the Lord asks you a question, He is normally asking you for your benefit, not His. And what I've realized over the years is that He is probably trying to show you something deeper in your heart that He wants to put right or address. What God was really asking me was, "Is my birth less important than being with your family?"
Even though I knew Jesus' birth was the true meaning behind Christmas, when everything else was stripped away from what I associated with Christmas, I had to decide for myself whether or not I believed Jesus' birth was still worth celebrating. Jesus was still born (I know it was probably not in December, but that is not the focus of the story) and His birth, life, death and resurrection changed the course of humanity forever.
For the first time in my life, I was faced with the true meaning, the true reality of Christmas. After processing through this question with the Lord, I eventually came to a point where I was able to truly believe that Jesus' birth alone was worth celebrating.
The true meaning of Christmas
Last year, I had the opportunity to go home for Christmas for the first time since joining Youth With a Mission. I had spent years dreaming about how much better Christmas would be if I just had snow, or if I just could be with my family. All of these things came true for me last Christmas, but something was different. I was no longer mesmerized by the holiday.
The Christmas 'fluff' had lost its magic. Please don't misunderstand me, I still love Christmas and being with my family, but I had realized 5 years ago, on a small island in the Pacific, that Jesus alone is worth celebrating. I no longer needed all of the extra Christmas 'add-ons' in order to celebrate.
This realisation was freeing; the list of things I needed in order to 'make it Christmas' had gone from probably 50 to 1 and the one never changes. This Christmas I will spend another holiday away from family and snow, but I'm thankful that my reason for celebrating still remains and it's something I'm able to celebrate not just at Christmas, but for Eternity.
Laurinda is a missionary at Youth With a Mission in Brisbane where she leads a discipleship program for young adults. On her day off you can find her hiking up a mountain or swinging in a hammock.
Laurinda Rapp's previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/laurinda-rapp.html