I've been thinking about the concept of "home" lately. Especially at Christmas, the idea is emphasized that we all have a home, not just in the physical sense, but emotionally. We have a place and people around whom we feel we can be ourselves, we are loved and accepted, known and embraced with all our quirks and shortcomings. We don't have to walk on proverbial egg shells or unduly weigh our words. We are at ease, experiencing peace and comfort and all those warm fuzzies everyone talks about.
But, going home for the holidays isn't always like that, is it? Having family and even people we call friends in our home isn't always like that. Sometimes, there's tension, emotional distance, difficulty in communication, offenses, bitterness, and maybe even hatred toward those with whom we share a home or to whom we open our home at this time of year.
And, then there are those who can't be home this time of year. They can't be with the ones they love and cherish. I think of my friends, the Goerlings, whose dad/husband is in Afghanistan. I'm sure they'd all love for him to be home with them this Christmas, but he can't. Or, my friends, Joel and Cindy Rishel, who expected to have 4 boys from Brazil home with them for Christmas this year. They're in the process of adopting these little men, and we all thought they'd be together by now. But, they're not.
Even going home to my own family in PA, I can't help but to think of both the beauty and the brokenness my family represents. My family exists because two people died. My dad died of cancer when I was twelve. My stepdad's late wife died when she was hit by a car while she walked along the side of a country road with a dear, family friend.
And, what about 26 families in Newton, Connecticut, who have presents wrapped under their trees ready for their children and loved ones who will never open them, who will never come home again?
This afternoon, I learned about other families in upstate New York who will be making funeral plans for their loved ones, firefighters, who responded to a 911 call gone awry. Those brave, dutiful firefighters will never return home.
The word "home" carries with it so much meaning, expectation, potential joy and pain.
So the words to the well known Christmas song, "I'll be Home for Christmas" don't really ring true for many of us sometimes, at least probably not in the sentiment they're sung.
I'll be home for Christmas
You can count on me...
Christmas Eve will find me
Where the lovelight gleams...
We can't count on others all the time, can we? And, those we do count on sometimes leave us. Or they can't be there when we need them. Christmas remains, nevertheless, an invitation home. But, perhaps not in the way we conventionally think about home.
Matthew 1:23 says, "Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call His name Immanuel--which means GOD WITH US".
John 1:14 says, "And the Word became flesh (this is Jesus' birth) and DWELT AMONG US", literally pitched his tent with ours.
At Christmas we remember when God made His HOME among men.
For Christians, Christmas is not just the memory of God with us; it is the REALITY of God with us that we celebrate. God is WITH us.
God was with my dad when he took his last breath. He was with me as I stood by his bedside holding his hand one last time. God was with my stepdad's wife, Eunice, as she received that death blow from a reckless driver. God is with Tom Goerling in Afghanistan and also with his family here in Maryland who long for him to be with them, too.
The God who created the heavens and the earth, who gave us our life and sustains us is WITH us; He has made His home in us.
John 14:23 says, "If anyone loves me, he will keep my word and my Father will love him, and will come to him and MAKE OUR HOME WITH HIM".
As a Christian, Christmas is a place to call home. It is a place where Christ has intersected our real world with its real muck and mess to be WITH us, to make His home with us. Knowing and remembering this can supply all the comfort, peace and joy one wants or needs.
When you're in that living room, sitting around the tree, cordially opening gifts you really don't want or need, thanking people with whom there is relational discord, remember GOD is WITH you. And, He has come not just to comfort you in that moment but also to empower you, strengthen and grace you to be a reflection of HIS grace to those people around you whom you call family or friend.
When you skype with the one who can't physically be with you this Christmas or pray over their pictures, remember God is WITH you. He is there to hold you together, to help you wait, to strengthen you for the hardship of being apart.
When you visit that gravesite, weeping that your loved one will never be home again for Christmas, remember that God is WITH you. He is there to comfort, to heal your broken heart, to give peace and joy. He is WITH you.
If you are not a Christian, Christmas is an invitation to come home. It's an invitation to know Immanuel, God with us. It's an invitation to know His forgiveness, love and grace! It's an invitation home.