“Did you go home for Christmas?” That’s a question you’re likely to hear these days. “Were you at home for the holidays?” “Did the kids come home for Christmas?” It’s a common theme at this time of year. We naturally associate the holiday season with “coming home.” Retailers pick up on the theme, offering us images of families gathered before the fireplace or around the Christmas tree. “I’ll be home for Christmas” plays over the loudspeaker in the grocery store. The idea of being “home” for the holidays appeals to many of us.
But what does “home” mean, really? Is it a place we can return to, or is it more of a longing? For many of us, the word “home” summons up a whole range of things that are past and that cannot be retrieved. The house we grew up in belongs to someone else. Our parents may have divorced – or died. Our siblings may be scattered across the country. The neighbors we once knew have drifted away. For us, “home” isn’t a specific place anymore; it’s more like a whole set of longings… or a collection of special people… or a treasure chest of memories that combine to make us feel safe and loved.
Many of us love the idea of “coming home.” But for others of us, perhaps, “home” was never that fine a place to begin with. Home was the place where mom and dad argued all the time until they finally split up, or where unkind and even abusive words were spoken. For us, “home” wasn’t a place where we felt safe or loved. We’ve had to find our “home” elsewhere – with different people and in different surroundings.
Being “home” for the holidays is important to many of us. But what can the miracle of Christmas teach us about being home?
The opening verses of the Gospel of John remind us that “in the beginning… the Word was with God.” With God. The Word, the Son of God, the one we have come to know as Jesus the Christ, was with God. And not only was he with God, he was God. Once upon a time and before all time, the Word was with God. The Word was, well, home. When God was all that there was and all that there had ever been – and even after God made a universe such that there was something other than just sheer divinity around – even still for the Word of God, to be with God was to be home. In the beginning the Word was home. With God.
But then we read that “he was in the world” (Jn 1:10). In the world. That’s different. That’s not home. The Word took on human form and entered the world to dwell among us (Jn 1:14). He wasn’t home any more. The proof was in the fact that no one recognized him. He blended in with everyone else. Human beings didn’t recognize him and they didn’t receive him.
“The Word was made flesh and lived among us,” says John. The word is literally he “tented” among us. He went camping. Camping is, after all, what you do when you’re not home. You pitch a tent and camp. If it rains, you’re damp in the tent. If it’s hot or cold, so are you. When you camp, you’re not anywhere near “at home” in the usual sense and that’s why people either love camping or they hate it.
In the beginning the Word was with God. He was home, and then he wasn’t. He was in the world. No one recognized him because he was one of us now, living on a kind of extended camping trip, and not a day went by when Jesus wasn’t aware of this. He wasn’t at home. Maybe that’s why, when someone said to him, “I’ll follow you anywhere,” Jesus replied, “Foxes have holes and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no home, nowhere to lay his head.” Maybe that’s why when his mother Mary came to fetch him and pleaded with him to come home to his family, he said, “I don’t have a home or a family, except for those who want to do the will of God.”
In the beginning the Word was with God. So long as he was in the world, he could never be duped into thinking he was home.
Are you going to be at home for Christmas? It’s an odd question when we realize that the One we tout as the “reason for the season” created Christmas by not being home. Christmas is about the homelessness of the Word. Christmas is about the One who knows as keenly as anyone ever has what it means to have a longing for home, to have reason to feel displaced. He was in the world. He made every person in the world, but they didn’t give him the time of day. And he still loved them, to the end.
Are you going to be home for Christmas? He wasn’t. The Word of God wasn’t at home for Christmas, but created Christmas by letting himself be exiled from home. And that’s why there is hope for every one of us who knows that he or she isn’t at home either.
The longing for home is deep within us, but we know we aren’t at home in this world any more than he was. And yet we have hope. Because the Word that was with God and that was God took on our human nature and “camped” among us. He became one of us. So that those who believe could be called “children of God.” (Jn 1:12) Children. Of God. He has given us a Father to whom we can belong forever.
“See what love the Father has given us that we should be called the children of God!” the author of First John exclaims, “and that is what we are!” (I Jn 3:1)
We belong to God. We can never ever be separated from God or from God’s love. We have been given a whole new identity: children of God. That is the good news of Christmas. “The Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth” (Jn 1:14). “No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known” (Jn 1:18). Now we have an identity. Now we have a home.
“Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (I Peter 2:10). Now we have an identity. Now we have a home.
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