Thursday, December 22, 2016


Despite some struggles to wrap our minds around a hot, Cambodian Christmas last year, this year I've been excited about Christmas. This week we bought and decorated a scraggly but lovely Christmas tree, and David has already whipped up a batch of eggnog. We've bought all the ingredients for Christmas cookies, and David's parents are here in Phnom Penh to celebrate Christmas with us here. These things have all helped me get into the holiday spirit, but as I've stopped to think about it, I've realized it's all the waiting and hoping I've done this year that have helped me understand and get ready for Advent and Christmas this year.

It's fitting. Advent, the 4 weeks leading up to Christmas, is a season of waiting. During Advent, Christians throughout the centuries have meditated on the Gospel stories of people waiting for God to show up, people like Elizabeth, Mary, Joseph, Simeon and Anna, but Advent is also a time where we are encouraged, in the longest nights of the year in the Northern hemisphere, to look around our own often dark world with expectant hope for God to show up there too. It’s a time of waiting and hoping.

I always feel the temptation to skip all this waiting in Advent and spend the whole season basking in the warm, fuzzy joy of Christmas, but the season of Advent resonates with me more and more with each passing year. So, especially this year, I’m holding off on the Joy to the World and leaning into the O Come, O Come Emmanuel.

As I sit to think about it, I realize that waiting and hoping have been themes for my whole year. Hoping that one day we will fluently speak this language. Waiting to feel useful again. Hoping for the peace of Christ to fill Cambodian hearts and bring justice to those hurting. Waiting to not feel overwhelmed by sickness or the everyday stresses of living in a new country. Hoping for community to form around me. Waiting to see friends and family again. Hoping that God has indeed called me here to do things I’m actually capable of doing.

Then there's the darkness. There’s certainly plenty of darkness to go around here, loads of places needing hope. As we’ve mentioned before, here in Cambodia I don’t have to turn over rocks in search of injustice. It’s sitting on my doorstep and walking down the street next to me. It’s all around. Additionally, I read Cambodia’s news and then move on to news from the US and world. From Aleppo to Flint, we are waiting, hurting, hoping.

This year, as I’ve learned about waiting, I’ve also realized that waiting and hoping are not just abstract feelings. They take work. Waiting looks a lot like going to language school every day, way past the point where it’s fun. It’s reaching out to strangers in hope of creating community. It feels like a brain saturated by learning and listening, eyes tired of looking poverty in the face. Hoping for justice and peace also has included sending money each month to quality organizations that work for those things. Finally, waiting and hoping have been about showing up even in the dark or unglamorous moments.

I haven't always appreciated this waiting. Yet I can now start to see how the experiences of this year have helped me to experience and understand Advent and Christmas in a new way.

So, as we approach Christmas, as we sit and wait, as we work and hope, I pray that this Advent and Christmas God will appear in your world and make all your waiting and hoping worth it.