Advent Abroad (or "A Cup of Christmas Cheer")

“It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.”

No. It’s not. It’s sunny and humid. To my delight, it’s thunderstorming violently each afternoon. It’s rambutan season. But signs of Christmas? There are few. Each afternoon, when the students leave, I start to blast carols from the tinny speakers on my desktop computer. It’s a odd juxtaposition to the 3:00 p.m. call to prayer resounding from the mosque next door.

 
Not even a hint of a white Christmas here.

Not even a hint of a white Christmas here.

 

A few weeks ago, I was dreading Christmas. It’s has always been the five of us (the only exception being the occasional appearance of the lovely Early Family). I am missing my family terribly. Interestingly, what’s almost as hard as being 7,000-some-odd miles away is the altogether lack of Christmas-y anticipation that comes with living in Muslim country.

But if you look closely, it’s impossible to deny that Christ is coming into the world. It just takes an extra bit of work to notice it. As a result, I think I’ve discovered some new ways to cultivate a little Christmas Spirit.


 
The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.
— John 1:9
 

Being away from all of Christmas’s merchandizing and to-do lists has brought me closer than ever to the beauties of my Savior’s birth. Walking past my neighbors each Sunday evening has become an absolute delight. Spying on them as they light the candles on their Advent wreath, brings me wonder and delight over all the treasures of the season. God, creator of the universe and sustainer of all things, coming into the word...and as a fragile, humble baby at that! Even amidst the perpetual heat of Indonesia and the off-putting lack of celebration, I’m finding that I can be mindful of the miracle. Mindful of the Incarnation.

So today on the blog, I’m sharing what Christmas currently looks like for me and how I’m celebrating in the midst of aching for home.


Going overboard. I will admit that our school campus currently looks a bit like Whoville. A student recently asked me “Why is there so much Christmas stuff around here?”

 
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The only answer: “Dude, we gotta bring it! Nobody else is.” So, yes, the Christmas decor is spilling out anywhere it can. This has meant a good deal of craftiness along with endless Christmas playlists and movies. Don’t worry. Only the good ones. No Hallmark cheese for this girl. Paper snowflakes, paper wreaths, paper chains. I think it’s safe to say that I have used up all the green paper in Sentul. Some of the gals (myself included) made a several hour drive to Ikea to buy trees. It was well worth the hassle. There is also a chance that I may have purchased four strands of twinkle lights. In my defense, the first two didn’t really work. I have a hankering to make some popcorn garlands but am worried about the ants they will inevitably attract. I might just suck it up and try. We’ll see.

 

This song has been in my heavy rotation over the month of December. If you listen to the album version, it begins with a voiceover of Linus from “A Charlie Brown Christmas” reciting Luke 2. Highly recommend adding this to your Christmas playlists!

 

Amazon forever! If you know me well, you’ll know that I can be a bit of an obsessive gift giver. Though I’m not really too much of a shopper myself, I love meticulously thinking about my friends and family. What would make that person smile? What would they not think to ask for? Needless to say, being far away has put a damper on my gift giving, but thank the Lord for Jeff Bezos and the wonderful thing that is Amazon. While it was a bit harder to shop with only the internet at my disposal, I still managed to go crazy. I’m pretty happy with the gifts I’ve picked out and I hope the recipient is, too!

Along with technology, I’m endlessly grateful for my little stateside elves: Dad, Sarah, and Mollie. They’ve put up with my over the top gift giving. Even down to the nitty gritty instructions informing them which kind of wrapping paper to buy. And my constant, constant question asking. And the incredibly detailed notes I annoy them with. Despite the challenges, it’s been a fun new experiment in gift-giving and has made me more purposeful in the ways I give to others.


 
Caroling at our most recent expat gathering.

Caroling at our most recent expat gathering.

 

Hospitality out the wazoo. One thing that has made the holidays bearable is the sheer amount of love that has been outpoured by my neighbors and school friends and church community. I have had so many invitations for Christmas dinner that, frankly, I’ve lost count. I’ve never felt so welcome. While we did have our actual Thanksgiving Day dinner at Mickey D’s, there was an incredibly elaborate feast as soon as the weekend rolled around. The holidays have been full of new friends.

Friends that have so graciously invited me to Christmas Eve services with them. To cinnamons rolls on Christmas morning with them. On vacations with them! And I am so excited to be exploring new parts of Indonesia with new friends. More to come on that. Fellow teachers have been playing card games in the evening and having coffee chats in the morning. Allie even offered to wrap all the presents that arrived in my Christmas care package from home. Love is everywhere in Sentul.

 
Trying to stay in touch with our American roots by celebrating Thanksgiving at McDonalds.

Trying to stay in touch with our American roots by celebrating Thanksgiving at McDonalds.

 

Advent still abounds. Perhaps the most comfort amidst all this homesickness has come as I try to celebrate Advent. Growing up, Advent was always something we did as a family. I have vivid memories of Mom and Dad, who were so committed to their biblically accurate creche atop my old upright piano. The stable would stay empty until Christmas Eve. The wise men were far away but moving closer day by day. I remember lighting candles on Sunday night. There was always Dad reading the birth story from his favorite devotional.

Now my first attempts at Advent didn’t turn out great. I tried to create my own Advent wreath with jarred candles but, when I arranged them into a circle, I have to say that it just looked a bit like I was hosting a séance. So I scrapped that idea. Inspiration quickly came from another place. A friend who knows of my strange affinity for children’s books shared a new title with me–Unwrapping the Greatest Gift by Anna Voskamp. It’s a lovely family storybook for the Advent season filled with Old Testament stories that we might not naturally associate with the birth narrative.

 
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My students have marveled over the beautiful cutout illustrations–and so have I. Reading this each day has brought my anticipation of Christ’s birth bubbling up to the surface. In my excitement, I’ve decided to start baking. Baking and sharing some yumminess with my neighbors. Now, this might not be the most intuitive Advent project but it’s the one I’ve decided to go with. Ingredients can be difficult to find in Indonesia. I’m fairly certain that parchment paper and vanilla extract simply don’t exist; however, this had made me think all the more intentionally about how I can bless the people around me with some of the goodness of the Messiah’s coming. So far it’s been chocolate almond biscotti and peanut butter blossoms.


Though Christmas away from home is a bit a painful, these little things have brought the miracle of the Incarnation to the center of my celebrating. I hope that you, too, are experiencing countless blessings as we prepare our hearts for His coming.

I’ll leave you today with this poem by Madeleine L’Engle from her collection, Lines Scribbled on an Envelope. Enjoy. And wonder at the beautiful gift of love God has sent.


The Risk of Birth

This is no time for a child to be born,
With the earth betrayed by war & hate
And a comet slashing the sky to warn
That time runs out & the sun burns late.

That was no time for a child to be born,
In a land in the crushing grip of Rome;
Honour & truth were trampled by scorn-
Yet here did the Saviour make his home.

When is the time for love to be born?
The inn is full on the planet earth,
And by a comet the sky is torn-
Yet Love still takes the risk of birth.

Madeleine L’Engle


Pray for joy!