Feeling "At Home" Can Be a Challenge at Christmas Time
Home is more a condition of the heart than a location.
By Rev. Jonathan Carey Goodell
"I'll be home for Christmas… you can count on me…"
This song, crooned originally by Bing Crosby at the height of World War 2, captured the longing for home and for reunion that soldiers and their families were feeling in that season. I suspect you know every word of this old chestnut!
But will you be home for Christmas? Is this something you can count on?!
For some, the "Christmas home" of their memories or dreams can indeed be hard to find! You may be without children in your life … an empty nest, a divorce with children shared across new lines. Or you may be without parents … a recent bereavement, a move away from our own parents for job reasons. It is not surprising that for many the holidays present a special challenge around being alone in a new way.
And yet … being 'at home' during Christmas is a question with beautiful, challenging spiritual overtones! It may ask us to look within and ahead, rather than behind.
The story that guides a Christian sense of the season is a story of a couple that finds itself without a home in a season of taxation and great stress. We have made of the ancient stable a warm and welcoming image. But it was only 'home like' because the hearts of its inhabitants were open to unexpected visitors and the power of God to do something new in their lives. This homeless family, displaced by the forces of war, welcomed migrant workers, shepherds, impelled to come and gawk at the newborn baby. The only home that they were experiencing was a new sense of being 'at home' with the strange twists and turns of their lives… being 'at home' with a growing awareness of God's purpose… living 'at home' with new thoughts, feelings, and concerns.
Being 'at home' in this season must be, somehow, about acceptance of the presence of the ordinary in our lives, including pain and loss. Spiritual growth always starts with that bedrock reality. When we do that, we also begin to be able to welcome God's spirit into the reality of our lives. God's spirit is making a fresh offer of welcome and hope in this season. It is offered to you. And it can be offered through you to others.
Spiritual writer Joyce Rupp in her book Fresh Bread shares her meditation on the nests that she can see in the December trees. These nests remind her that we can make a spiritual nest of the little bits of our lives, the sticks and straw of our lives, the presence of pain and the hope for joy.
Will you be 'at home' this Christmas? That is a matter of perspective and the stuff of spiritual growth. Home can be anywhere that we take the ordinary stuff of our lives and ask God to come in, to bless it, and to make of us more hospitable people. The original story shows us how… if we will take time from the tinsel and bustle to find the heart's true home.
Jonathan Carey Goodell is pastor of Tewksbury Congregational Church.