How I Discovered the Meaning of Christmas

The point of Christmas, says Lama Rod Owens, is to be in the places that need you.

When I was growing up, Christmas was always a special time for me. My mother and I didn’t have a lot, but she, with the help of my father, made sure I had what I needed and wanted. After college, I struggled to understand what Christmas meant beyond materialism and consumption. I wanted to remember how the season evolved out of commemorating the birth of Jesus, and how that event signaled, above all, new hope, transformation, and resilience.

By my early twenties, I was living in an intentional community in Boston called Haley House, where one of our projects was running a soup kitchen that mostly served homeless men. My first Christmas staffing the kitchen was also the first time I’d been away from my family during Christmas. It felt odd.

It was the tradition for a family close to the Haley House community to come in on Christmas morning to prepare and offer a breakfast of ham and eggs to about a hundred men. I felt moved by the generosity of this family. As the men came in, I felt my own longing to be somewhere else, as they too may have wished to be somewhere else. But we were there together, and I realized we were holding space for each other to practice hope and resilience.

That morning I reflected on my choice to serve, and in doing so understood that this was the point of Christmas: to be in the places that need you. This was a transformation for me. I finally knew what Christmas meant to me.