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Hello everyone! What are some of your favorite things to do on Sabbath? I like to watch nature shows, listen to music, and read! :)

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Iíll Be Home for Christmas

by Melissa Howell

You’re going to miss the final!” my roommate’s shouts broke through my dream. The final? The final! I rolled out of bed, pulled on an embarrassing ensemble of clothing, popped a knit hat over my messy hair, and ran out the door. The Nebraska wind whipped sleet in my face and cut through my clothes as if I wasn’t wearing anything at all.

About halfway to the building where the classroom was, I realized my feet were wet—I was trudging through the snow in slippers. Perfect. Running the rest of the way, I ducked inside just as another wicked prairie wind attacked and slipped through the closing elevator doors with seconds to spare. But somehow, as those doors closed, I caught one line of a familiar song threading its way out of a nearby office: “I’ll be home for Christmas . . . ”

Home? Christmas? I looked around. Most of the other students crammed into the elevator that December morning, a mere six days before Christmas, looked just as shredded as I did.  Sleepless. Showerless. Joyless. We were in sad shape for holiday season.

Until finals were over, I don’t imagine anyone could even think about Christmas, or gift-giving, or trips home, or any reason for this season. We were in survival mode—we had to eat (if there was time), skip sleep, study, study, study, study, and take tests as if our lives depended on it (they sort of did). “I’ll be home for Christmas” was the furthest thing from our minds at the moment. And for some reason, in the silence of that short elevator ride, I was struck with how very much had changed about Christmas for me through the years.

The season always began with our family trip to find a tree. My brothers and sister and I would play hide-and-seek in the tree lot while Mom picked the perfectly shaped candidate. Once the tree was set up and decorated, we would hide our Strawberry Shortcake dolls and my brothers’ Batman characters deep in the branches and play for hours. Every night before bed we turned off all the lights in the house and scooted under the flashing tree to look up at the colorful lights reflecting off tinsel.

Sometimes on cold afternoons we would play the “I’m thinking of an ornament” game. Each night Dad would read a part of the Christmas story by the tree, and we would talk about Jesus coming to earth to save us. The Christmas season was marked by so much joy: gingerbread cookies, caroling, crafts, Nativity plays, and school programs. Our house was perpetually filled with friends and family, presents multiplied daily under the tree, and I always got a frilly, sparkly new Christmas dress. In short, it was magical.

Fast-forward to the present. Far from flouncing skirts, I wore an ex-boyfriend’s beat-up leather jacket and sweat pants. Our dorm room did have a small Charlie Brown-sized Christmas tree that wouldn’t stand up on its own, so we hung it from the ceiling with fishing line. It didn’t have decorations. I hadn’t had time to “play” in what seemed like months. There were no cookies except the stale ones from Thanksgiving in my bottom desk drawer, and though I attended the school’s Christmas Nativity program, I accidentally fell asleep during it. The difference was shocking. What had happened to Christmas? Where was Christ in all of this madness?

The elevator doors opened, and we all made mad dashes in varying directions toward impending exam doom or success. I don’t know if anyone else hummed “I’ll be home for Christmas” the rest of that day, but I know I did. And every time the song’s sad refrain played through my head, I tried to think about what it means to go “home,” to go back to an old childhood place when we—the ones returning—are truly not the same anymore.

Once the exam was finished (for better or for worse) I took a moment to ask myself if it was still possible to prepare our hearts for Christmas in a life and in a world where most people are just trying to make it through the day. I know that there was no room at the inn when Jesus was born, and I’m afraid there’s not much room for Him in my life sometimes, either. But maybe that’s exactly what Christmas is for—to remind us that we are prone to push God out, cast Him aside, fill our lives with so many other things that He gets forgotten. We’re all innkeepers. We all get to decide every day if we will make room for Him, or not.

Jesus didn’t go “home” that first Christmas. Instead, He came here—to this sin-soaked, hate-filled, pride-washed world. He came for me and for all of us. He came to make sure there was a real home in heaven that we would all be able to come to someday. “I am going . . . to prepare a place for you,” He promised in John 14:2 (NIV).* Maybe I can’t go back to childhood and its magic, but it’s good to know that a better home does await me, somewhere at the end of this rat race, sometime soon when my Jesus comes again.

* Scripture quotations credited to NIV are from the Holy Bible, New International Version. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Melissa Howell is a speaker and author in the Seattle area with a M.Div. from Andrews University. She used to love traveling, backpacking, writing, and reading, but now that she has four kids (including 1-year-old twins), all she wants is a full night’s sleep!

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