Friday, December 23, 2005

Guyana - Christmas, 2005

Christmas greetings from Guyana!

For as long as I can remember, each year my family and I would gather at Aunt Peggy’s house in Amherst, Wisconsin for a wonderful Christmas meal. The annual Christmas Day excursion to Aunt Peggy’s was something we all looked forward to, for it was attended by numerous members of my extended family – many of whom we rarely saw during the course of the year. And so, no matter how far we had to travel or how busy we were, each family member traveled home to central Wisconsin to celebrate Christmas Day. Year after year, Aunt Peggy could always expect to host all five members of the Konkol family immediately after church on December 25th.

The Christmas Day scene at Aunt Peggy’s house was something straight out of a comedy: A traditional Norwegian meal stacked high and wide on various tables and countertops, a basketball game blaring on the television (with my Uncles and cousins screaming at the screen!), a countless number of Aunts chatting in the kitchen and gossiping in the living room, various children running through the house (and poor Aunt Peggy praying that nothing broke!), and of course – my dear grandmother sitting and smiling in the middle of it all! All in all, each Christmas Aunt Peggy’s home was packed with people, presents, food, and a bundle of activity! It continues to be a family tradition that we all hold dear to our hearts.

I have long associated Christmas Day with Aunt Peggy’s house. Just as peanut butter goes with jelly, salt goes with pepper, and cereal goes with milk – for me, Christmas and the annual trip to Peggy’s have always been considered inseparable. That is, they were inseparable until God introduced me to the land of Guyana.

This will be my second Christmas in Guyana, and I know that as December 25th approaches, many of the things I typically associate with Christmas will be absent. There will certainly be no trip to Aunt Peggy’s house. There will be no traditional Norwegian meal. And unless the polar ice caps melt in the next few days, there will be no frigid temperatures or traces of snowfall. And so, most everything I typically experience at Christmas will be 4,000 miles way. While my friends and family dress with sweaters and long pants in a “white Christmas”, I will be clothed in a T-shirt and flip-flop sandals in 90-degree heat!

Among other things, living in Guyana has allowed me to remember what is – and what is not – essential to the various parts of my life. I have learned that it is not essential to have two televisions, two DVD players, and two vehicles. And believe it or not, I have quickly learned that it is not essential to have six pairs of shoes, seven hats, or eight styles of blue jeans! And specifically during this time of year, I am reminded that it is not essential to have snow and cold temperatures to enjoy the Christmas Season. By living in Guyana, God has reminded me that Christmas is not about the things that I have long associated with it. Christmas is not about company parties, discount shopping, NFL football, and hanging up the lights – but rather, Christmas is about something much deeper. Christmas is about something much more important. Christmas is about something much more profound. Ultimately, when you strip away the layers of clutter that often distracts us during this time of year, we remember that Christmas is about something much more significant than our minds can comprehend: Christmas is about the birth of a baby boy named Jesus, and how this small child born in Bethlehem grew into a man and changed the course of the world. At its very core, that is what Christmas is all about.

By living in Guyana, God has reminded me of the simple fact that Christmas without Christ is like Thanksgiving without thanks. And so, my “Christmas Sermon” to you is quite simple (It will be the shortest sermon you ever get!): In the midst of your holiday parties, shopping dates, company socials, and family dinners – I urge you to sit back, relax, reflect, and remember what this time of year is all about. I know that you have been blessed in various and countless ways, and so, now is that time to give thanks for it all. Give thanks to God, enjoy the time with families and friends, and of course – remember that a young Lutheran pastor in Guyana is thinking about you, praying for you, and asking God to provide you with all you need – not just today, but always.

I love you all.

Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year,