Christmas Homesick Blues
"I'll be home for Christmas, you can count on me.' So we hear through the tinny loudspeakers of the malls and marketplaces, and of course we want it to be so. We want it so badly, it hurts, especially this year, when so many find themselves alone. Christmas is, after all, about coming home.
This is a soulful season, as our senses evoke memories of every other Christmas we've ever known. It makes us nostalgic, which comes from the Greek--nostos, for homecoming, and algos, for pain. In other words, Christmas makes us homesick. This is why the offence is great indeed when a minister misreads the signs of the season and tries to update the carols or rewrite the pageant. More than any other time of year, Christmas is about going back, not forward--it's about going home.
Into the midst of our nostalgia is dropped this story we know so well, yet still don't know at all. The Christmas card image endures: a rude stable with ox and ass; a crib fashioned from a manger; shepherds wondering and wise men kneeling; a star shining above and, for good measure, a host of heavenly angels, praising God. At the heart of the tableau, a radiant Mary and Joseph behold the Christ Child, who is radiant, too.
It's a homey scene. It exudes warmth and love and kinship and all the good things we associate with going home. But of course, it's not home. It's a crude shelter for a displaced family on their way to somewhere else, back to Nazareth, perhaps by way of Egypt. And then, as Jesus takes up his public ministry, we're told that the Son of Man will have no place to lay his head. He will die among strangers, and be buried in a tomb made for someone else.
Our nostalgia for home is real, and we should honour it. We should sing the carols and light the candles and cook the pudding and gather round the hearth. And we shouldn't hold back a tear or two, when they fall. For the real story is this: We are a nomadic people, looking and longing for a home we'll never find, not in this lifetime. We'll travel high and low, endure all manner of hardships, one day being blessed beyond measure, another suffering great loss, until, finally, we lay our burden down.
The wonder of Christmas is that it awakens a dream hidden deep in our hearts. We want to go home. Keep going, it says. God is with you, it says, your Rock and your Refuge, and you shall find rest for your souls. The day will come when a door will open and you will be welcomed to your heart's true home. Until then, take comfort. The journey is your home.
Next Week: Faith and Community