The Distance of Christmas
Being a westerner living in Serbia can be incredible for the most part as we get to experience the differences in culture from that of our own. There are many things about Serbia which have left my heart changed for the better, the hospitality, the fact that when someone says they’re going to do something, they do it! There are a few things which are difficult for us though, not because the cultural practices are wrong, simply because they are different from that which I’m used to. It’s Christmas day in the western parts of the world and it’s Christmas in Serbia…almost.
For nearly 36 years of my life the 25th of December has been characterized by being around family, celebrating Jesus through things such as the traditional nativity scene. There is usually the anticipation from the kids to open presents and lounge around in our P.J’s for a good portion of the day enjoying one another’s company. The afternoon is characterized by joy, laughing, aunts, uncles, parents and food! But the last two years, my family has been living a different narrative on the 25th of December. In Serbia the nationally recognized day for Christmas is on the 7th of January, following the Gregorian Calendar. Today, the 25th of December, my morning consists of — well, the same thing I do on any normal day of the week. This morning my wife and I woke up, asked The Lord to provide us with our motivation for the day through a cup of coffee, got the kids out of bed, made sure Roman and Luke were ready for their school day, mustered up the energy to take Sammy to pre-school and saw them off. Again, just like any other day. The Christmas season has been a surprisingly difficult cultural adjustment for us. Also, this is not an attempt to solicit pity. We are honored to be chosen by Jesus to do what we are doing. I simply thought I would share my thought process which The Lord has used today to help me to not focus too much on myself.
This Christmas day, in order to stop the self-destructive pity party as I scroll through my social media feeds to see all the festivities being held by my western friends, I had to choose to focus my mind somewhere else — the reason for Christmas and the sympathetic ministry of Jesus. The Lord reminded me of this:
Jesus experienced physical separation from his Father in order that he might win people to God through his sacrificial service of love. The sympathetic ministry of Jesus means that he understands and has felt the same way that you have. This means that today, when I’m missing friends and family on Christmas due to the physical separation, he says to my soul, “I understand and I am not asking you to do anything which I have not done first.” This seriously ministers to my soul this season.
This Christmas season I’m increasingly appreciative, not only by the fact that Jesus chose to become a child, to become a man, to become a sacrifice for my sin, but also to be my forerunner and sympathetic high priest. I’m reminded of how he experienced separation from his Father and sympathizes with me missing mine (love you Dad, if you read this ;)). This Christmas season I’m appreciative of the fact that when Jesus became my sin on the cross and experienced separation from his Father, he did it so that I would never have to experience an eternal separation from him either. I’m appreciative of the fact that because of what we celebrate on Christmas, the birth of our Savior, my physical family who chooses to trust in the sacrifice of Jesus will never have to experience the physical separation from God or one another for eternity. I’m reminded of the fact that Jesus chose to spend a short time separated from his family in his Father so that we would be with Him for eternity. In light of that fact, years seem like a short price to pay in service of Jesus’ gospel to people in light of the eternal benefit and I hope that my family which might miss me (or might not ;)) will choose to think along the same lines. Temporal separation is a small price to pay in light of the eternal benefit for others, knowing that through faith in the sacrifice of Jesus we will one day be together for eternity.
And so, this Christmas season, as my family has chosen to spend a time physically separated from our family which we love, we know we are walking in the footsteps of Jesus who physically separated himself from His Father for a time in order that he might win more people to Himself. May this Christmas season bring to you both an appreciation for the family near to you, and an appreciation of the sympathetic ministry of Jesus if you are physically separated from yours.