We are very happy to be here in Kiev, but it is not without its occasional melancholy moments. This will be our first Christmas without at least one of our children with us. That realization (typically accompanied by a nostalgic Christmas tune on our stereo) brings a momentary surge of sadness along with moist eyes and a very palpable sense of an unwelcome swelling in the throat.
If you are sentimental like we are, it only takes a familiar note in a song to trigger a cascade of memories of Christmases past—and the emotions that their elusiveness triggers. Some fun, others funny—but all of them frozen in time and far away. Why is it that so many Christmas songs define Christmas as being “home for the holidays”, decorating Christmas trees, sitting in front of an “open fire” (very few people in Kiev even have a fireplace), and being with family and close friends as we watch our children eagerly tearing open gift-wrapped boxes?
Surely not all of our past Christmases were as fond as our sanitized and idealized recollections would have us to believe. Forgotten in our sacred Hall of Christmas memories are the ghosts of Christmas meal disasters, innumerable hours spent on “easy to assemble” toys, the tragic absence of batteries; snowless Christmases, bickering children, and untimely bouts of the flu bug. (How about some of those experiences in the next Christmas hit song?)
Ironically, our biggest problem with our memories—are our memories! We focus on a few family traditions and forget that the best is yet to come. Nothing wrong with remembering the past—as long as we keep our eyes on the future. And that is where things really become exciting. If you know Jesus Christ, you can take your best Christmas experience ever, multiply it by infinity, and you still can’t touch what is coming. All because our God keeps all His promises. That is what makes this Christmas so special for us.
We are finding that keeping busy and having others over who are away from family really helps. On Friday night (December 23), we had 4 Kyiv Seminary students over for a meal. One is from Kazakhstan and is a bit homesick for her family (In fact, she lives with us and is like a daughter to us) Her boyfriend has no surviving family members. They both are missions majors and in fact may very well end up in Kazakhstan serving the Lord together one day (at least that is something they are praying about). The other two are a married couple from Far East Russia. They are almost 6,000 miles from home—and it has been three years since they have been there!
Our common separation from family and loved ones coupled with our common commitment to the Gospel in the Russian-speaking world made for a sweet evening of fellowship. Who knows? Maybe this will become a tradition.
So wherever you are, just know that the message of Christmas deserves more than a wish for a repeat performance of some idealized past memory. It is worthy of something bigger than waiting in line for hours to have a chance to buy a pair of special edition Air Jordan basketball sneakers. It is in the category of an off-the-charts ecstasy that can hardly be contained. We are not quite there yet. But we are fighting for it. “Even so come quickly Lord Jesus.”
Because he left His home in heaven to make us a home with Him,
Jerry and Kellie Benge