We were strangers in this country on the first Christmas season that I remember. Everything was confusing: the language, the crowded streets, fast moving vehicles, hurried people and huge stores full of food and colorful goods. My family had spent almost five years in a refugee camp for displaced Latvians and now we were finally in a place we could call home, arriving at the beginning of December in 1949. Due to the generosity of the First Baptist Church in Kalamazoo, Michigan, we had all we needed to celebrate the season….a small rental house, furniture, clothing, food in the refrigerator, a job for my father, and even a Christmas tree! As a child, I wasn’t fully aware of the traumatic events of the war that led my parents to leave everything behind and flee for our lives. I experienced the seasickness of the ocean voyage and the confusion of Ellis Island but I didn’t experience the fear, because the love and security of my father and mother was always surrounding us three children. To me, much of it was exciting and wonderful while at the same time, I am sure my parents had a totally different experience.
However, one theme rang clear, then, and in the subsequent years, as I grew older and learned more of our history: that was a theme of gratitude. My parents expressed deep gratitude to all those unknown people who helped us and for the country that willingly accepted us when we no longer had a home. That gratitude has remained with me these many years later, especially when I reflect on my abundant life and gaze on my beautiful grandchildren who might never have been.
In a sense, “once a refugee, always a refugee”, stays with me because I can never forget the journey that led us to this country and the sacrifices that were made for us to have the opportunity of a new life. The freedoms I now enjoy are not taken for granted as I know that they came at a great cost. In this season of gift giving, I am aware that I have been given the greatest gifts of all: love, security, and the freedoms that are so precious: freedom to go wherever I want, speak whatever I want and worship wherever I want. In this season of Advent 2017, I await the coming of the Christ Child with remembrance, hope and thankfulness.
Advent is a time of waiting. In 1 Peter 3:14, we are advised to wait in peace. May we all find some peace as we wait for the coming of the Christ Child.
Daily Reading: Psalm 27:1-4
1 The Lord is my light and my salvation;
whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold[a] of my life;
of whom shall I be afraid?
2 When evildoers assail me
to devour my flesh--
my adversaries and foes--
they shall stumble and fall.
3 Though an army encamp against me,
my heart shall not fear;
though war rise up against me,
yet I will be confident.
4 One thing I asked of the Lord,
that will I seek after:
to live in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
to behold the beauty of the Lord,
and to inquire in his temple.