In the Philippines, the Yuletide season means everything—family reunions, commemorating Christ's birth, celebrating love.
Combine that with good food, endless parties, and halls “decked with boughs of holly” from September all the way to February, and you’ve got a pretty merry Christmas.
But several years ago, Christmas didn’t bring the same good feelings for me. Maybe that was because I was a 20-year-old single girl who was craving a different kind of love that Christmas. I wanted someone to share it with, some-one to love. That didn’t happen. Instead, I faced a string of personal problems and a lot of turmoil. I was spending Christ-mas near the equator, and my heart felt wintry cold.
My parents were full-time Christian volunteers, so Christmas was also synonymous with volunteer activities. This year, my sisters, brothers, friends, and I had already visited two national prisons, a few orphanages, the city’s main hospital, and a neighborhood in the slums.
Our first stop on Christmas Eve was at a home for the aged. I didn’t feel like going, but having already committed, I threw on a T-shirt, running pants, and sneakers. I slung a baseball cap low over my eyes, hoping no one would read the depression there.
During the chapel service, I sat far in the back pew, half listening as the pastor explained that the volunteers from our organization were going to perform a few dance numbers later, during the small party.
A few of the elderly people sitting near me smiled my way. “Will you also dance, young man?” a wavering voice beside me asked. I turned to see an old woman. Was she asking me?
An old man beside her chuckled and slapped his knee. “That’s a girl!” he said, amused.
An hour later, I was dancing, having forced myself into “stage mode.” For the next half hour we entertained with traditional and original Christmas songs and dance routines. Then it was their turn. We played interactive party games with the old folks, and then had a ballroom dancing competition. It was great fun to see them take their places on the dance floor. Time had not robbed their spirits of youth, as they danced to the music of their day—swing, boogie, cha-cha, and more.
“Thank you for coming,” the same old lady said to me, “and Merry Christmas!” She patted my hand.
Looking into her eyes, her loneliness mirrored my own.
Then came Christmas Day. Kelly, one of my best, wackiest friends, phoned in tears. She had tried to reconcile with her boyfriend the night before, but was rejected—turned away on Christmas Eve. It was the saddest story I had heard in a long time. I tried to comfort her, but my own disappointed hopes were too strong, it seemed. What could I say? Together, we prayed over the phone, committing to God our hearts’ desires and expectations.
As I listened to Kelly thanking God despite her tears, I felt ashamed of my selfishness. Maybe true Christmas love was there all along, and I just hadn’t noticed. Had I missed it? I had been looking for happiness in a person—someone to fill my need for love. But instead, I had found so many also looking for something real—they were the lonely, the poor in spirit, the outcast, the forgotten, the dejected. It dawned on me: That’s what God’s love is really for, isn’t it? It loves the unlovely, enters a world of disappointment, and brings hope.
That December taught me that the spirit of Christmas is alive for everyone, and those who don’t see it are people like me who look in all the wrong places. Yet some folks look in the right places, with open hearts, and they do find that treasure.
Joseph and Mary were looking for a decent inn; they found an animal stable.
The Wise Men were looking for a king’s royal palace; they found a carpenter’s simple abode.
The angels were looking for people to spread the glad tidings of the newborn Savior; they found humble shepherds.
God was looking for someone to bring heaven’s love to, and He looked in the right place. He found you.
I hope that this time, we will also look in the right place and find those to bring His love to. I hope that each year we will all find Christmas.