A Christmas Calling for Celebration

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Being born of Vietnamese immigrants, my sister and I didn’t have any cultural or religious traditions passed down to us. My parents were busy starting a new life in a faraway land, having to learn a foreign language while raising the two of us (thank you, mom and dad). Christmas time growing up for us simply meant having time off school (hooray, more time to play video games) and enjoying the snow outside. Eventually, my sister started cooking turkeys and I started dating, and it just so happened that each one of my partners was born into the Christian faith. There was one partner with whom I was particularly enamoured such that I got baptized, thinking of marriage somewhere down the line.

Since our family didn’t have any Christmas traditions, I would typically spend Christmas with my partner’s family. If I was single at the time, my sister would invite me to her partner’s Christmas gathering. Looking back at Christmases past, I enjoyed the company of family and friends and all the great food. Deep down, however, there was a nagging feeling of separation, of loneliness. I felt like I didn’t truly belong. That’s a feeling I used to carry with me all the time, and that feeling intensifies during the holiday season. Surely I was missing something, and I longed to discover what it was.

It wasn’t until I got married and spent Christmas last year in Spain with all of Tatiana’s family (there were 14 of us) that I finally felt a sense of belonging during the holiday season. It was such a wonderful time filled with love and laughter and joy. I had ample time to connect with the family members, and each and every one of them welcomed me with open arms and an open heart as a brother, son, and uncle. And still… it felt like something was missing. For me, this family vacation could have been at any time of the year; I didn’t discern any special significance to the Christmas season.

This year, Christmas feels different. There is a calling for celebration. My heart is guiding me to bask in the joy of community, the joy of peace, and the joy of fulfillment. Since joining the St. Matthew’s family in September, my heart has been opening more and more to the love of God. I’m beginning to understand, deep in my heart, the inherent joy in celebrating the birth of Jesus.

It is in this spirit of joy that the abundance of gifts during this season bears significance. More than just an obligation to buy a gift because of the cultural expectation embedded in today’s society, I’m learning to appreciate more and more that gift-giving is an expression of joy, love, and the desire to share that with others. Tatiana and I have received some incredible material gifts that were beyond our minds’ range of possibilities. And beyond the material significance of these gifts is the gift of love. The gift of faith. The gift of reunion with our creator. The gift of trust in God, that He is able and willing to provide for our every need. As we slowly let go of our expectations of how and when we want our lives to unfold, as we strengthen our connection with our source, we learn to see the abundance all around us, and the ongoing manifestation of God’s glory in our lives.

We give thanks and sing praises to the Spirit for guiding us back home through St. Matthew’s Church. We also give thanks to the entire congregation for being so kind and compassionate, so welcoming and open, so generous and loving. We truly feel blessed to be a part of a community so clearly dedicated to building the kingdom of God on Earth.

Bryan Tran