This holiday season found us unexpectedly in the United States. We hadn’t planned to spend the end of 2020 in Indiana, but much like the rest of this year, our plans didn’t go to plan. Usually, being “home” for our favorite holidays would be a cause for celebration. Thanksgiving is way up there on my preferred holidays, and who can deny the value of Christmas? Our family has not spent Thanksgiving in the US since 2013, and our last Christmas visit was in 2018. Add to that a handful of fall and winter birthdays, and you have a recipe for celebration overload.

The truth is, even though we are “back home,” this season hasn’t felt all that normal, regardless of what side of the globe we’re on. The coronavirus pandemic has dramatically shifted how we all approach the holiday season this year, and being back in a familiar American setting hasn’t made the changes any less tangible. This year looks so much different than how it did last year in Hungary, but it also looks markedly different from any year we’ve celebrated in the US in the past.

On one hand, our unique lifestyle of living overseas has prepared us for such “unusual” celebrations. We already have had the experience of altering holiday routines and creating a new normal in years past as we transitioned to a new culture with different holiday practices. I mean, Thanksgiving isn’t even a holiday in Hungary. (Try cooking a turkey feast and all the fixings when it’s a normal work/school day!) We are used to not having access to some of the favorite holiday foods and experiences. We have developed somewhat of a hodgepodge of traditions from Jonathan’s family and my own, mixed in with our host Hungarian cultural traditions. So, given our history of change, why does this holiday still seem to be such a hard one to process?

This year has been filled with so much disappointment, isolation, unexpected challenges, sickness and death. And the restrictions of a global pandemic directly stand in opposition to all the things Christmas is for many of us – gathering, celebration, joy, hope, and comfort. If I had planned my perfect holiday return to America, it would have included large family gatherings and equally large amounts of my family’s holiday delicacies. But it doesn’t look like that is how things will pan out this year. Sitting in this space of waiting for things to be better, waiting for this pandemic to be over, has placed us all in a common space of discomfort. This uncomfortable place is similar to the place God’s people found themselves many years ago – in a season of waiting, disappointment, loneliness – longing for a Savior.

As we sit in this season of Advent, many seek to understand and find a place to direct their longings for peace, faith, hope and love. However, we must remember that we do not live on the “before” side of hope. We have the privilege to live on the “present” side of our Savior coming to earth. We live on this side of the promise that brought God to us so that we could encounter Immanuel, God with Us.

My encouragement and hope for you this holiday season, in the midst of change and adjustments, disappointment and frustration, is that you know confidently that God is with you – that God is with us. Canceled celebrations, smaller gatherings, and disrupted traditions cannot separate us from the presence of our Savior, Immanuel.

“Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.”

– Matthew 1:23