(Originally published in the Journal Review, December 2013
Among the themes inseparable from the Christmas Season is the idea of “home”. Whether it’s the cozy images of families gathered together on snowy nights around a fire or the longing lyrics of “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” the Holiday Season is a time focused on what it means to be home. We decorate our homes – dressing them in their very best. Many folks drive long distances, sometimes braving cold and snow to have that very special shared experience of home. Traditionally it is a time to slow down a bit to eat a meal together, to exchange gifts and enjoy fellowship with family and friends. In today’s increasingly busy and divided world, it’s a good, and really essential thing for us to try to do. In fact, “reclaiming home” might actually be one of the best ways to celebrate the central event remembered at Christmas – the coming of Jesus Christ into the world.
But there is something else, something very important (and often overlooked) about this event that happened 2000 years ago, and the life that followed, that might make us appreciate home even more. It also might challenge us to rethink what it means to truly be “home”.
Jesus didn’t really have a home. At least not the way we think of it. Jesus was not born in a home, surrounded by comfort and extended family. He was born poor and transient. The story of Mary and Joseph is one of struggle and courage but certainly not of ease. The Traditional understanding is that Mary was a very young woman when the Angel appeared to her with the news that she would be with child. She was a teenage mom, in danger of being rejected by her very community, her “home” for being with child. Joseph was a widower, a respected older man in his community who had voluntarily agreed to protect and care for Mary and her child, sacrificing much to do so. Joseph gave up his “home” and comfort to help make a home for Mary and Jesus. This was not an easy life they embarked on. They were turned down for lodging after many miles of travel, Mary near the point of giving birth. Shortly after Jesus was born they were forced to flee in the midst of an oppressive and cruel tyrant in order to keep their child safe.
We know very little about Jesus’ life as a child. He certainly had a household in which He was raised and cared for. He had step-siblings from Joseph’s first marriage and He was seen at a young age reading in the Temple, giving His parents quite a scare. Other than that we don’t know much. But we do know that upon adulthood and the beginning of his earthly ministry Jesus chose poverty, even homelessness. When asked about what it would mean to follow in His footsteps, Jesus answered, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” (Matt. 8:20). He chose, in a sense, to make the world His “home”. Or maybe, it could be better said that He chose to bring “home” to the world.
Jesus’ life, whose earthly beginning we celebrate at Christmas, was about reaching out, about giving, even to the point of laying down His life in order to give life to others. He gave up the comforts of an earthly “home” in order to give a home to others, and to show that “home” is not just for those who are wealthy enough, or in the right class to have one. Jesus broke down cultural boundaries of His time, speaking to a Samaritan woman at the well, eating with prostitutes and tax collectors, touching and healing lepers and those with other “untouchable” conditions to show what God’s “home” looks like. It is a home built on love and healing. It is a household under the care of a loving Father. It is a home that will receive those who want to dwell there, who want to be healed.
At the very heart of our often nostalgic sentiments of home at Christmas is a very real longing for a place where we are truly loved, safe, and accepted. It is a longing for a place where we are made better together than if we are simply left alone to deal with life. The very best of “home” at Christmas reflects this – reuniting with loved ones, slowing down enough to simply be together, maybe even mending old wounds and shedding a few tears – it’s all a picture of what is possible, healthy, and good for us. Being with others, choosing to love others also makes us consider how our actions and attitudes affect others, and can help us change those things we need to change. It’s hard for us to grow in solitude. It’s why we need home.
It’s those very tangible things, here and now in this life, that are what the coming of Christ is all about. It’s not just about getting to heaven, but also bringing heaven to earth.
So this Christmas, let us consider with gratitude the great gift of home that is given at the birth of Christ. And let us also consider the One born homeless and poor in a manger, who looked and lived outwardly in His life rather than simply resting in His own home. Let us consider those who have no home, physically and spiritually, in our midst, in our community. Let us truly experience home by doing something to bring home to someone else this Christmas.