This is my 10th consecutive Christmas being away from family. As I look back, with each Christmas I have been having a richer and deeper experience of Christmas - one that gives me deeper glimpses of God in Christ.
The upside of not having a family to celebrate Christmas with is that I have a lot of time to do many things. A tradition I have developed through the lonely Christmases is to go to multiple Christmas services. Following my lonely Christmas tradition, yesterday, for Christmas eve, I went to 3 services. I started off with a service at 7 Mile Road, which is my friend's Church plant. Then I went to the 9 pm service at First Presbyterian Church, my home church. Then I went to the 10:30 pm service at St. Martin's Episcopal church, being the sucker for sacraments that I am I couldn't resist the option to make Christmas service the Eucharist service.
This year, I reflected on the question of what my lonely Christmas tradition has amounted to, if at all anything. One, I realized that the Christmas services are the best worshipful times of the year for me. Two, when I sing Christmas songs over and over again on the same evening, I feel myself standing alongside the Shepherds spiritually seeing the Infinite take flesh in the finite as the babe Jesus Christ. Three, every year as Christmas comes and goes, I seem to be able to spiritually see the face of Christ more and more clearly.
The point about seeing the face of Christ is something that has been deeply impressed upon me since my reading Shusaku Endo's book Silence. The book is about Jesuit Priests being persecuted by Japanese Samurai in the 17th century. During the persecution the Priest Rodrigues repeatedly meditates on the face of Christ. He is constantly meditating on the details of the scenes from the Gospel. This is what gives him the strength to suffer for the sake of the Gospel.
As I look back, I think my compulsive attending of multiple Christmas services over the past 10 years helped me reach a deep place in my soul where I catch a glimpse of the face of Christ. The Christmas songs were an opportunity to meditate on the face of Christ. Then the kind, grieving, loving face of Christ comforts me in my loneliness. The price to pay for my lonely Christmases is the deeper vision of face of Christ and it is worth it. After all, this gazing on God is the highest of all pleasures which David talks about in Psalm 27:4 "One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple."