Note: This was originally written for my church’s Sojourn Christmas event and has been modified to fit here.
Andrew and I are at that agonizing place in life now where we have to decide all over again every year what to do about Christmas.
For a while, we’ve been reserving the day itself for our small family of four, but we still have to decide about these crazy weeks around it. How and when will we see family? How much can we reasonably fit into this already stuffed-full month? Who will we see? Who will we skip? How much will we do? How far will we go?
And most importantly for me — will we go home for Christmas — by which I mean, to my childhood home in the Chicago suburbs.
After all, it’s a seven-hour drive, and the timeline is a little hard this year with Andrew’s work schedule. But still – it’s home, and every Hallmark movie or Thomas Kinkade Christmas card I’ve ever seen would cry, Yes! Of course go home for Christmas! Of course you should!
Go home even though your sister can’t make it out from Boston and your brother will be in Houston. Go home even though the magnolia tree that was in the front yard your whole life died this year and had to be taken down.
Go home even though all the careful Christmas traditions your family once had have collapsed into something new and strange and grown up, even though it means packing your two young boys up and listening to them fight for seven hours in the car.
I’ll be home for Christmas. You sing along to that old, warbling song on the radio, and it’s so mournful isn’t it? So achingly nostalgic, so hopeful and sad:
Christmas Eve will find me
Where the love light gleams
I’ll be home for Christmas
If only in my dreams.
Because you go home for Christmas…or you don’t…and either way, it’s not what you remember, not what you imagine. Your childhood home changes. Your family shifts – moves away or passes away or simply grows in directions that confound you. The traditions and rituals that held so much weight when you were little – or when your kids were little – shift and crumble beneath the weight of change.
Even your own home, the one you have created – the one you’re creating now – never seems to quite match the picture in your head…which is perhaps why you keep buying new throw pillows and serving dishes and hand towels. The stores are all lit up red and green and gold, selling “home” like a commodity, selling it in pretty boxes, marked 40% off – and you keep buying it even though you know better than to believe the empty marketing promises.
Is there any other holiday that is so happy and so sad at the same time?
Any other time of the year where you feel that longing for home quite so desperately?
I’ll be home for Christmas
If only in my dreams.
Here is the story of Christmas: a baby was born in a stable that was not his home, laid in a manger that was not his bed. He was born into the chaotic turbulence of a traveling family, making their way back to their ancestral home for a government census.
He was born to impermanence, born to wandering.
There was a stable and it was cold and dark and not home. But he was born. And it was a match striking against the coarseness of the world.
Jesus was born – Emmanuel, God with us – and it was a candle flickering to life that will never go out. Light of the World, the Gospel of John says. And I used to think that this meant BRIGHTNESS and SUNSHINE…and sometimes it does.
But more often, for me, the world feels very dark. I am so aware of the fact that so much is not right. I see the news and worry for my kids. I scroll through the footage of the refugees wandering, and I see in their eyes my own sense of displacement. I wake up in the morning to the Minnesota cold, and it hits me so hard in the gut sometimes that I almost can’t breathe…
And maybe this is why I love to think about that stable, that manger, that nativity scene we’ve seen a hundred thousand times. Certainly there are small fictions here – of course Mary did not look that glowing after childbirth; of course the shepherds were much more foul than they look here; of course the ox and donkey were not leaning gently in like cartoon characters on PBS…
And yet – there is something so fundamentally true about that tiny light coming from the manger that I can’t look away.
And it’s this:
Into this homeless, wandering world, Jesus Christ is born.
He is the light of the world, the candle in the window, shining in the darkness…
He is welcoming us, drawing us, inviting us into the truest kind of home…the one that we cannot seem to conjure up on our own, no matter how much holly we hang or bread we bake or miles we drive to see family.
It’s Christmas, and love has come, and so you don’t have to go home for Christmas. You already are home.
You don’t have to do anything, you don’t have to be anything. Put down the egg bake and the laundry basket of gifts and the guilt and the worry.
The light is already here, shining, dancing, inextinguishable – and this is where you belong.
The door is open. The coffee is on.
Come on in.