So I have to admit something to you all:
I had all but forgotten about Christmas.
Trying to tie up everything in GR, preparing for Zambia, moving everything home... I had just not really grasped the fact that Christmas was actually happening. Which, honestly, felt a little weird to me. Here I have been thinking more about God and Jesus' mission while he was here on earth more than any other year.... and I was having a hard time feeling 'Christmas-y.'
I had driven into a Massachusetts winter wonderland and seen the lights, I had run around and bought all my presents, I had accepted my pastor's request to read Luke 2 in church, I had seen the friends, and my family was all back together (my brother from Japan, my sister and her fiance from Florida, me from Michigan), and I had enjoyed the smell of a real Christmas Tree set up in our living room.... but even as I hurried to the front row of good ol' Fairlawn CRC to sit with my family on Christmas Eve (candle in hand), I still wasn't really feeling it. Christmas? What is Christmas?
And then it happened.
On Christmas Eve, my church decided to take the entire evening offering and use it to finish all of the fund raising needed for my trip to Zambia. My mom had told me a little earlier that evening that it was happening so that it wouldnt be a shock in church, but for the most part it had been a complete surprise. And, as I sat in church and my pastor announced that it was actually happening and sent a smile my way... I was simply overwhelmed by God's presence, providence, and love.
Don't get me wrong, the money was a nice bonus as well.... but I dont think I will ever be able to really describe the feeling of realizing that God had provided not just the means for me to actually go to Africa, but had done it through the work of a community that I had grown up in and loved. I wish I could describe the crushing love that I felt from my church family as I was watching baskets of money come forward and realizing that I no longer had to worry or stress about the trip. I think it must have been what Paul felt all those times when he started his letters to the churches that supported him with "I thank God every time I think of you."
By the time Pastor Coffey opened his sermon with the rhetorical question of 'What is the true meaning of Christmas?'.... I realized that I finally knew the answer to it.
It's about love. A love so great that God came down as a baby to save us. A love that made him choose to come down in a stable (which, if you look at what an inn's stable was in those times, was actually a place of lowly community; as only rich people and those in extreme circumstances actually stayed in the inn.... Mary should have been in the inn due to her pregnancy, but of COURSE our God would choose to come into the world in a place of community, with everyone gathered around and all the women helping!). And a love that is going to follow us to the ends of the earth.
I realize that it is now January 6 and may be a little past due for a Christmas message..... but tomorrow I leave. I am currently writing from a Texas hotel room, and over the past few days I have been sufficiently orientated and trained. And thus, after months and months of preparations, in a few hours I will get on a plane and finally head out into the wild blue yonder of God's amazing grace. However, I realized on Christmas Eve that I certainly do not head out alone.
I may have almost forgotten Christmas, but Christmas did not forget me. Christ stopped me in my tracks just in time to remind me that he has everything covered already, and I only need to walk with him. And thus, walk I shall.
Here we go.