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Europe Field Story

The Hope That Keeps Us Celebrating

“Christmas is about celebrating the miracle of a God who knew we were not all right and sent His Son. Because He is Immanuel, God-with-us.”

What a joy it is to celebrate Christmas and the true meaning of the hope that we have! Celebration can include traditions, new memories, time with loved ones and many other things that make it a joyful time of year. Although it can be a time of year filled with lots of laughter and special moments, that might not be the case for everyone. Christmas can also be a lonely time. You might be far from family; life circumstances may have made it to not be the time of year that makes celebration easy.

If we believe the songs and movies, this is supposed to be the season of deep satisfaction, when families reunite at Grandmother’s house in front of a cozy fire while snow drifts down out the window. Cynical business executives return to their hometown, where they fall in love with the local single dad innkeeper sipping hot chocolate under the mistletoe. Here, we are told, in this magical time, you can know you belong, and are wanted, and welcomed, and loved. Everything’s supposed to be perfect.

But Christmas isn’t a Hallmark card for everyone. My childless neighbor next door, whose husband died last Christmas. The Ukrainian refugee kids I met this year, missing their friends and fathers and native language. The missionaries, far from family and snow.

Most people here in Italy think the holidays about family and food. But even people with families close by can find them hard to love; and whether we gorge on lasagna or turkey, we all have an ache inside food can’t satisfy. Unmet expectations of cheer can leave us feeling flat.

A couple of days ago I passed a bus stop where the benches were covered with burlap. I wasn’t sure for a minute if it was a nativity scene under construction, or a place where the homeless were sleeping. And then it struck me that it’s the same thing, really.

Because Christmas is about how God doesn’t come to us because we’ve prepared everything perfectly and are passably all right ourselves. Christmas is about celebrating the miracle of a God who knew we were not all right and left His home to be born to a frightened teenager far from the comforts of her home, in squalor and poverty, in the dark. Because He is Immanuel, God-with-us.

In Italy, a favorite Christmas tradition is the Presepe, a nativity scene. The setting is often recognizable as the local city. A lot of little figurines will be going about their business- there’s a butcher, a carpenter, a baker. And then there’s Jesus. Because he didn’t just come to us once in history and stay there; he comes to us where we are, in our darkness, and loneliness and longing, to take our brokenness on Himself. He alone can make us whole. And one day, he’s coming back to take us home.

It might be easy to have joy in this season or it might be a challenge, but regardless we can be reminded that He is Immanuel, God-with-us and that is always a reason to celebrate!

This Christmas, please pray for people who don’t know Jesus, even in places where Christmas is celebrated, that they may understand why His coming is worth celebrating! Pray for missionaries far from family, that we would use the opportunity Christmas gives to talk about Christ and the hope he brings. Look around you for someone who needs that hope and share Him with them!

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