Stop and look around you
The glory that you see
Is born again each day
Don’t let it slip away
How precious life can be
With a thankful heart
that is wide awake
I do make this promise
With every breath I take
Will be used now to sing your praise
And beg you to share my days
With a loving guarantee
That even if we part
I will hold you close in
a thankful heart.
–Muppet Christmas Carol
At 8:30 AM, I wake up on a mattress on my living room floor, opening my eyes to grey morning light, competing with the soft glow of my still-lit Christmas tree. Kandern sleeps under a thick layer of frost, morning sky still pink from the sunrise. It’s Christmas morning in the Black Forest.
Around me on other mattresses and a fold-down futon are my sister, my roommate and two other friends. When Holly suggested that we pull all our mattresses down and have a Christmas Eve slumber party, I thought she was kidding. How naive. Minutes later, I left my first effort at cinnamon rolls rising in the kitchen, returning to a living room full of beds, presided over by my giggling sister. Like kids at a sleepover, we murmured ourselves to sleep long after midnight, blowing out the candles and closing our eyes on the evergreens and paper snowflakes with which Emily has decorated our home.
It’s been a different sort of Christmas, here in Germany. Last year, I was blessed by the privilege of being home in Seattle for most of Christmas break. I loved that time, loved the extraordinary intensity of “coming home” for Christmas for the first time in my life. This year, I’ve stayed. It was intentional, not in any way something that I felt forced into, and yet from the outset I knew it would feel strange. Of course to be so far from friends and family in Seattle, but even the less tangible moments that we repeat without knowing it.
I’d miss walking around Greenlake with my mother and her friends. I’d miss lighting candles to the strains of “Silent Night” at Bethany’s candlelight service, the way that my dad passionately, without fail, reminds everyone to tilt the unlit candle, not the partially melted one that could drip hot wax everywhere. I’d miss how my brother gets excited for the gifts he’s given everyone, his smile both nonchalant and eager as each of us unwrap his presents. I’d even miss the green warmth of Seattle’s winter weather, comforting in its predictability. I knew I’d miss all of it, this whole Christmas I’ve come to love and expect over the last fifteen years or so. And I have.
But last night I attended a Christmas Eve service, filled with kids from our community who have returned for Christmas from all over the world. I watched friends and siblings reunited here, singing together, an evening of welcome and homecoming. We lit candles, and sang “Silent Night” until I could no longer sing the words. Holly and I shared a meal with friends, and then came home to spend the evening with more friends, also remaining here for the holidays. We stayed up and watched movies, then fell asleep in front of the Christmas tree.
In the morning, we’ll open the gifts we’ve made and bought each other, the small and personal gifts of those with limited means. Slippers and paintings, gummy bears and coffee, we’ll laugh as we unwrap each, savoring the time together and taking as many pictures we can. We’ll prepare a magnificent brunch for my roommate, Emily, whose birthday is today, then linger around the table for ages. We’ll spend Christmas dinner with a local family, then return home to Skype our friends and family, now awake in their respective time zones. We’ll fall asleep tonight, knowing that the cords of love that bind us to our homes are strong and permanent, but that love is unlimited and growing quickly, putting down roots in a new land.
And I’m thinking, in the evening of this odd Christmas Day, of what we keep and how we grow. How often I ask God to repeat the most beautiful moments of my life, to replicate them with the habit and regularity of the best Christmas traditions. But almost nothing happens the same way twice, and I’m beginning to delight in the surprises. At the end of this lovely, unexpected day, I’m thankful that God gave me more than I could have imagined in the last week, my first Christmas away from home.
Still, I’m thankful for the things that never change. Six young adults, we sat around our breakfast table this morning and read the first three chapters of Luke aloud, losing ourselves in a familiar memory, the mystery of Christ’s incarnation. Near or far, with family in Seattle or friends in Germany, I’m grateful tonight for the love of Christ, binding us together and to Him through the gift of His birth.
Merry Christmas, dear friends. May the peace of Christ fill this day.