By Lauren W.
Christmas always meant family time. As a child, that was easy. We’d wait for everyone to gather in the family room. We would empty our stockings, eat the chocolates while disregarding the oranges, and thank mom for the small things we found inside. Cinnamon rolls warming in the oven, hot chocolate steaming on the stovetop. After we had eaten, my father would reach for the bible, and we’d dive for the costume box, draping ourselves in swaths of fabric that represented my young mother’s interpretation of biblical garb. We all knew that before we could unwrap presents, we needed to re-enact the birth of Christ.
I’d always claimed the role of Mary, and since older brother Dylan never wanted to act as my husband, little brother Brendan played Joseph. Until she turned four Anne got away with being baby Jesus, but afterwards she joined Dylan in playing donkey, shepherds, angels, sheep, and wise men.
Even after Dylan and I left for college, we still knew Christmas only had room for our family. We make our pilgrimage home, pull the beat up costume box out of the closet, and reenact our Savior’s birth. The costumes seemed to shrink more every year, but we stayed united until Dylan’s faith in Christ led him to mission service in Mexico. We carried on without him, Anne changing costumes every few seconds to fill in his absence. Then I decided to follow his example and serve a mission.
I only traveled to the other side of the country, but regardless of the distance the looming holiday will be my first without my family. While they carry on the tradition of early morning anticipation and recollection I will be serving strangers in a land and culture still very new to me.
But I can’t be sad, I can’t hold regrets. Much like the wonderful woman I was able to portray once a year, when the opportunity to serve my God came, I accepted wholeheartedly. And now I take comfort in the example of the mother of Christ.
It’s hard to imagine the courage it must have taken for a young woman about to bear her first child to leave her home, family, and town. But she did. Mary and Joseph traveled across their country to the unfamiliar town of Bethlehem only to find the only place they could rest her newborn son was a manger. Mary certainly was exhausted from the journey and the birth of her son, and looking at the trough from which the grimy animals ate must have been disheartening. I wonder if she longed for her mother, her family, the familiar town she had left.
Yet she had the Son of God in her arms. The greatest task of her life had been completed. She may have been very alone and in a strange place, but the greatest gift the world had ever received was with her. I have no doubt that her heart brimmed with joy in spite of her physical exhaustion.
Mary gives me hope as I approach my first Christmas away from places and people I know and love. She helps me realize that Christmas without my family, without presents, even without a stocking does not signify Christmas will be sad. I can follow her example, turn my focus to Christ, and be happy.
So this Christmas I’m choosing not to focus on my unfamiliar surroundings. Instead, I will look for people who are struggling and I will help them. I will give what I have– smiles, kind words, and service. I will focus on Christ and his message of love and life. I will serve until I too am physically exhausted. Like Mary, I will have joy!