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December 22, 2014

an uncomfortable Christmas

From my kitchen table, I can see rooftops and treetops in my new city. It's overcast (what else is new?) and looks like a European winter out there—lots of grey, no white. After a few not-so-enjoyable run-ins with brusque grocery store staff communicating with me in a language I barely understand, I'm postponing this afternoon's food-buying trip as long as I'm able. If you've ever changed continents, or changed them as often as I have this year, maybe you understand why I need to work up a little courage to do so simple a task as grocery shopping. So the bread dough is rising for the second time, the dishes are washed, the shopping list is made...and really all that's left is for me to put on my boots, take my re-useable shopping bags down seven short flights of stairs and brave Europe.

This morning is cool, but I woke up with my warm husband at my sidemy human anchor in all this transition. Today is our one-month anniversary of marriage, and he lingers around the flat longer than usual, not wanting to go to the office. I encourage him in his delay tactics, but endlich, I shoo him out the door...so that, as I tell him, he can come home earlier!

I am overwhelmed by the miracle that God accomplished when He set us two lonelies in a family. He searched the ends of the earth to bring two so like-minded people together in a country that is neither mine nor his. Yesterday a generous family adopted us for the day. We had meals, fellowship, a walk and nap. Kindly, they put our two-person North American family into a bigger European family for the day. "Was it strange," I asked, "being with a family who has hosted you so many times, but this time with me?" No, he said it felt completely normal. That is how our marriage has felt, completely normal. God truly brought me my other half in my husband.

Which is why, when I sprouted the idea of inviting a passel of Asians over for a Christmas gathering, Husband was game.

One of the privileges and challenges of marriage is "leaving". For us, the "leaving" was rather forced, by kilometers (or miles), time zones and continents. We both leave homes that taught us truth, and now we have the responsibility of founding a temporal home that echoes with eternity, a home in which God dwells. A holy home, if I dare use that old-fashioned word. I've been pondering what a home looks like if God "tabernacles" there, when the Word "dwells richly" in us an then "becomes flesh" in our space, in our conversations, in our actions, in our choices. Late at night I whisper those thoughts about "tabernacling" to my husband and we pray for our Asian party.

The Father made our paths cross with a local yet excellent-English-speaking student with a similar heart. She, my husband and I all wanted to have a party in our home for international friends who are far from home this season. My husband and I had the home and the desire, but few international student friends. She had the friends and the desire, but no home she could share. Together, we can accomplish something we couldn't separately. Today she came here to lift them up with me and gave me a list of names of friends, mostly from Asia, whom she plans to bring to our home tomorrow night. She's elated to have a home to gather them in. We're elated that she has these friends from Asia. Yet another God-ordained joining, Europe and North America merging to bless Asia.

I asked her about her parents, whom she lives with, and they believe like we do. "But I can't bring in so many outsiders. They like their Christmas traditions. I could bring in one foreigner, that would be OK. But not ten."

I know what she means.
We all want Christmas to be comfortable. 


But aren't the beginnings of our Christmas traditions all 
neighbours' gossip and disbelief,
birthing pangs and bloody delivery, 
splinters and rough wood,
socially-awkward agricultural workers and then,
Asian visitors who show up late and travel-weary....
perhaps needing a translator? 

This doesn't sound like a Martha Stewart Christmas with Ten Must-Have Napkin Rings or Terrific Turkey for Twelve. The first Christmas was not exactly comfortable. But friend, this is Christmas. Remember?

We get so intent on celebrating Christmas in a comfortable way, 
the way we've always done it, 
that we forget whom we say we are celebrating:
the uncomfortable coming of the uncomfortable Christ.

The One who asked the massage parlour worker (the "Is-she-a-prostitute?" one) from the brothel to the potluck. The One who took in that guy with the oozing wound that might be contagious or the girl who talks non-stop about topics of no interest to you. The One who stretches us where we didn't want to be stretched and says things that challenge us to the depths of who we are. The One who didn't just tell us to spend time with people who aren't part of our club, He modeled it. He didn't come to be served but to serve. Christmas was a stoop, an uncomfortable stoop, for God "veiled in flesh".

I recently read a comment from the main character in Stepping Heavenward. She confides to her journal: "One must either stop reading the B!ble altogether, or else leave off spending one's whole time in just doing easy pleasant things one likes to do."As Matt Papa bluntly puts it, "If you want a comfy life, stay away from J'esus." Yes, Christmas is more about being uncomfortable than comfortable, because that is what Christ is about.

God sets the lonely in families. He goes to great lengths to bring people home, and others-centered, unselfish hospitality for those who need a place is a classic trademark of His people. A holy home puts flesh on a holy God whom we cannot see. A holy home doesn't let its own comfort determine how hospitable it will be. When God "tabernacled" amongst His people, it was sweaty, dirty, earthy workdoes our Christmas look like the Christ we intend to celebrate?

4 comments:

  1. Thanks, Julie. I appreciate your posts so much.

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  2. Thank you, Kendra. Hope you had a good Christmas, uncomfortable or not :)

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  3. Your blog has a funny way of making me feel right at home. =) As I was reading, I was nodding along, saying, "yes! yes! yes!" in my head. Thank you for writing, and for your hospitality. =) After dropping by last time, I picked up "A Chance to Die" and I am loving it.

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  4. Irene, Thanks for the kind comment, I'm glad to have you "in my home".
    We must be book twins! Anything I've read by E. Elliot has been good, but "A Chance to Die" is an all-time favourite!

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