The tree is decorated. There are lights on the house, wreaths on the door, my college kids are home, and I switched my all-purpose cleaner to the peppermint scented one.
It must be Christmas.
This weekend, my daughters made gingerbread houses. They drank hot cocoa on a humid Texas night. I even wrapped three gifts and put them under the tree and congratulated myself for “being ahead.” We are counting down the Advent calendar, making the lists, and checking them twice.
But the older I get, the more it takes for this time of year to feel “Christmas-y.”
I think my kids feel it too because they keep asking to do all the traditions that make it feel like the holidays. I love creating those special memories year after year, but I am tempted to do the things so that I feel the joy of the season.
Doing things to feel joy is backwards and we know it. Instead, we feel joy and so we do the things, right?
But God, in His goodness, stopped me mid-holiday prep and reminded me how to feel everything He has for me this holiday season.
I was standing at a dumpster, trying to hoist a huge box over my head and I was sweating (if we waited for South Texas to actually feel like winter…) The large metal can was overflowing with garbage and rotten food. There were flies covering the stench and I could hear the rodents bickering over scraps. The smell was overpowering.
An Afghani man walked up behind me and we made eye contact. He bent to pick the trash that had blown out of my box in the air. We smiled.
I wasn’t in a foreign country. I was in an apartment complex in Houston helping asylum seekers from Afghanistan move into their apartments. We could only communicate with smiles and nods, but the language of loving our neighbors was loud and clear.
A scrappy group of us had shown up to assist the YMCA International and they put our hodgepodge team in charge of five apartments that day. We worked our tails off assembling beds, unpacking welcome kits into kitchens and bathrooms and carrying a lot of boxes to the dump
It was in that unexpected moment, surrounded by strangers turned new friends, that I felt completely overwhelmed by Christmas. It was as if God whispered right next to the dumpster, “Freeze this moment, Kristen. Remember today. Loving other people will always lead you to Me. This is Christmas.”
Jesus came to a manger and Christmas was born. It was simple. It changed the world.
And thousands of years later, we’ve turned that holy moment into something very different.
What we long for this holiday season isn’t wrapped in a gift. We don’t need a present, we need a Person.
We can’t find it in the traditions or under the tree. And while I love the festivities and decor as much as the next person, no matter how much I buy or how many lights I hang, it’s Jesus I need most, more of- He is Christmas.
Last week, a family from the Middle East asked me what Christmas Day was like for Americans. At dinner, I told my family about their question. We now have neighbors from Iraq coming over for Christmas.
Go ahead, deck the halls, but look for simple ways to love your neighbors this Christmas season. The gift is in the giving.
I walked away from that dumpster and into another empty apartment that was about to welcome a new family and it felt just like Christmas.