But there was one last hurdle to my settling in: I'd never spent Christmas away from home, and I didn't know if I could manage.
My missionary friends and I poured ourselves into Christmas preparations. An artificial tree was decorated and placed on a table in the corner. The house was cleaned and cookies were baked as we got ready to host numerous parties with our English classes. We greeted guest, some who had never been in the home of Americans, and shared the Christmas story as a part of the festivities. In Japan Christmas is not a national holiday. It is celebrated commercially, though -- with music and decorations in the department store, gifts given to the children, and store-bought Christmas cake.
Of course the church relishes the Christmas celebration and takes advantage of the opportunity to share God's love with all they can. Our small house church was no exception. We converted a neighborhood art school into a place of worship and presented the gospel through a candlelight Christmas Eve service. We had a tremendous attendance, even if you don't count the plaster busts that peered down from the shelves around the room.
I found it to be one of my most joyful Christmases. The scripture that best represented my heart that season was Psalm 116:12-14: What shall I render unto the Lord for all his benefits toward me? I will take the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of the Lord. I will pay my vows unto the Lord now in the presence of all his people.
The Lord had blessed me and was using me in some small measure to touch others. Miles from home, God's work provided the identity and security that had always been associated with home. So "home" was not so much a location as an attitude.
My two-year assignment stretched into three years. Twice more I celebrated Christmas in Japan. My second Christmas was a quiet celebration with co-workers after I'd had a 10-day stint in the hospital. My third Christmas was observed in the midst of a blizzard which knocked out the electricity for three days. The power came on just long enough for us to cook the turkey!
Of course, I missed being home, but even then I knew that God was with me and I was able to appreciate my three unique Christmas experiences.
Wherever you are this year, whatever your circumstances, I pray that you will see God's hand in your life and will have a blessed Christmas!
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Adapted from a post that appeared in december, 2010.