For an Emory student such as myself, Christmas isn't always "the most wonderful time of the year". Being a newly-minted college student during finals season meant spending December nights staring wistfully out of the upper-story library windows instead of caroling, or counting the emotional breakdowns rather than the days till Christmas.
I had recently said goodbye to my cozy hometown of Alkmaar, the Netherlands, and that meant losing a plethora of lost Christmas traditions - opening presents at my godparents' across the street, eating Vlaamse Frites in the light-strung streets in Haarlem with my father, and pelting snowballs at our church's sign after the carol service. During the Christmas season, there's no place like home —and my home, with its evergreen wreath we would hang on the stairwell and its glowing candles on the windowsill was thousands of miles across the ocean. I was left without the trustworthy friends and almost-family, who would faithfully celebrate Christmas, year in and year out, with my family and I. It was no wonder that my Christmas season was feeling less ho-ho-ho and more hopeless.
Mere days after a crushing realization that I was celebrating Sinterklaas, Dutch Christmas, away from home for the first time in more than a decade, the light of saving hope streamed through my life through the concept of Advent. Sitting in Passion City Church that Sunday, I came to realize that the Christmas season did not mean that my life was supposed to look as pristine as a scene on Christmas postcard. Advent instead meant hope and expectation, and like Mary, the shepherds and countless more roles of the Christmas story, it was my turn to wait faithfully for things to be made right and to trust that "the real Light was coming into the world".
And maybe, in a round-about way, my world had been filled with light all along. Maybe I didn't get to sing carols with my old church members, but I got to hear my roommate perform in a beautiful Christmas concert. Maybe I didn't exchange presents with my godparents, but I exchanged Secret Santa gifts with my new friends—Christmas tree, hot cocoa and all. Maybe all it took to rekindle Christmas magic was decorating the dorm with tinsel, building a gingerbread house with a new friend, baking Dutch pepernootjes for my friends, eating way more cookies than I should have at a Christmas party, or tasting apple cider just like my mom's. Sure, my new college life was never perfect, but I could never dismiss the glow of friendship and family that had ignited over the course of a few short months at Emory.
Maybe it was time to stop questioning and to realize God had already provided all that I needed. It was time to look forward in hope and confidence and trust for all the light that will continue to shine in my life.