This was a strange, lonely Christmas for our family.
We’ve been traveling for a little more than four months now — and we’re far enough into the experience that we’re past the novelty of it. It’s still a gift, but the trailer feels smaller, the pile of dirty clothes larger, the miles to our home back in Michigan longer than before.
We worshipped this morning in a mostly empty, beautifully appointed Episcopal church, overlooking a stunning mountain and grove of picturesque palm trees. It felt comforting to be saying the familiar liturgy, to receive communion, to sing the hymns that we’ve always sung on this day. And, it felt lonely.
I hadn’t noticed before how hard it is to ignore Christmas. I’ve never tried to pretend it wasn’t Christmas before. But Christmas is un-ignorable. Nothing is open except Walgreens, and even there the cashier is wearing a Santa hat and asking what your plans are for the day.
This week a friend of the Christian Reformed Church named Abdoul was featured in a national news article — he and his brother, originally from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, arrived in Grand Rapids eight years ago as refugees. He was sixteen. After living in a camp in Rwanda, they were finally permitted to move to the United States, and eventually obtained citizenship. Abdoul goes to Calvin College.
Abdoul — this Christmas, and every day — is waiting to see his family again. His aunt, uncle, and cousins (the remaining family that survived the brutal civil war) were scheduled to arrive in September. but because of senseless and heartless delays, denials, and changes to refugee policy in Washington, he hasn’t seen them yet. He hopes this will soon change. I hope so, too.
This morning in church, I heard the old, old story — the baby born to a world that failed to welcome him, to parents who were far from their home, attended only by strangers and livestock. And even with all the parts of that story that felt easier to grasp this year than ever before, I admit that I felt like an outsider to the Christmas club, without a dinner plan or closet full of Amazon boxes. And I wondered how the holiday had become so starkly different than the moment it claims to commemorate.
For Abdoul, and for all those longing for those they love this Christmas — peace, peace to you from the one in whom all things hold together.