As the song so eloquently states, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year.” (Be honest with me… you just sang that line in your head, didn’t you? I know you did…) I am a HUGE fan of the holiday season. I have had Christmas music playing in my truck since November 2, which is the first day that Sirius XM Radio fired up their Christmas channels. In my office, at this very moment, I have a 4-foot-tall Santa Clause standing by my door. As of this coming Sunday morning, I will begin rotating through my vast selection of Christmas suits, sweaters, bow ties, and miscellaneous apparel. I LOVE CHRISTMAS!
While I love all of the trappings of the holiday season, my favorite part of the season is all of the time with family and friends. In my experience, there are more family gatherings and parties from the week of Thanksgiving through New Year’s Eve than through the whole of the rest of the year together. I spend more time in my hometown during this five to six-week period than any other period of time. As another classic Christmas song reminds us, “Oh, there’s no place like home for the holidays. For the holidays you can’t beat home sweet home.” (You sang that one, too.)
For many, home won’t feel quite the same this holiday season.
This year has been one of the most difficult of my pastoral career. I have walked with families and friends through incomprehensible pain and loss. For the first time in my life, I am keenly aware of the difficulties that face many as we approach this time of the year. For many, home won’t feel quite the same this holiday season. Instead of being a time of great joy and celebration with family and friends, it is a poignant and painful reminder of profound hardship and loss. The warmth and security of home has been disrupted by the cold realities of this world.
As I’ve considered the stories of the first Christmas, I’ve come to believe that displacement is a common thread throughout the Christmas narrative. Those who struggle to find home for the holidays are experiencing some of what we read in the pages of Scripture. We find a very pregnant Mary and her husband to be, Joseph, searching for a place to stay in a “hometown” that is far from home. No matter how you paint the picture, sleeping, let alone giving birth, in a room adjacent to the place where you keep the livestock is less than homey. The shepherds lived their lives as less-than’s. There’s a reason we refer to them as “lowly shepherds.” These folks were working the graveyard shift, sleeping under the stars when we find them. The wise men had left their homes in the East, following a star in the sky that was supposedly going to lead them to a newborn king. Each of these people are far from home in search of something they need. They are in search of hope. They are in search of joy. They are in search of peace. If you’ve ever seen a nativity scene, you notice that all of these characters are present. You’ll also notice that each of them looks very much at home in spite of their unusual surroundings. There in the manger lies the source of the hope, joy, and peace for which they are searching.
Christmas is a time to return once more to the manger, to remember that when we are in the presence of Immanuel, God is with us.
What’s most interesting to me is that no one in the whole of history has experienced displacement during the holidays like Jesus did. Jesus left the safety, security, and the glories of heaven, to meet us where we are and to associate with us in our struggles (Hebrews 4:14-15). That’s the beauty of the Christmas season. It’s not just about families, friends, and all of the trappings of the holidays. It’s about finding hope in the midst of our heartache. It’s about finding joy in the midst of our sorrow. It’s about finding peace in the midst of our struggle. Christmas is a time to return once more to the manger, to remember that when we are in the presence of Immanuel, God is with us. And, that in His presence, though we might be far away from those we love, even standing in a stable, we are home for the holidays.