Ever since Joseph and Mary went home to the little town of Bethlehem, which was Joseph's ancestral home, people have been coming home for Christmas. "I'll be home for Christmas" is sung nostalgically by multitudes.
Garrison Keillor, of Prairie Home Companion fame, writes about coming home for Christmas in his book, Leaving Home.
It has been a quiet week in Lake Wobegon. Warm and foggy on Tuesday, and late in the day, as the temperature fell, fog froze on the trees and made white bare trees in which the fog appeared ghostly beautiful, as if you could walk into these trees and receive immortal powers of a sort we all want at Christmas: the power to gather our friends and loved ones close around us and prevent suffering and evil and death from touching them.
Dozens of exiles returned for Christmas. At Our Lady of Perpetual Responsibility, Father Emil roused himself from bed, where he's been down with cancer since Columbus Day, and said Christmas Eve Mass. He was inspired by the sight of all the lapsed Catholics parading into church with their unbaptized children, and he gave them a hard homily, strolling right down into the congregation. "Shame. Shame on us for leaving what we were given that was true and good," he said. "To receive a great treasure in our younger days and to abandon it so that we can lie down in the mud with swine." He stood, one hand on the back of a pew, and everyone in that pew--children of this church who grew up and moved away and did well and now tell humorous stories at parties about Father Emil and what it was like to grow up Catholic--all of them shuddered a little, afraid he might grab them by their Harris-tweed collars and stand them up and ask them questions. "What a shame. What a shame." They came for Christmas to hear music and see the candles and smell incense and feel hopeful, and here was their old priest with hair in his ears whacking them around--was it a brain cancer he had? Shame, shame on us. He looked around at all the little children he'd given first communion to, now grown heavy and prosperous and sad and indolent, but clever enough to explain their indolence and sadness as a rebellion against orthodoxy, a protest, adventurous, intellectual, which really was only dullness of spirit. He stopped. It was so quiet you could hear them not breathing. Then he said that this was why Our Lord had come, to rescue us from dullness of spirit, and so the shepherds had found and so shall we, and then it was Christmas again.
Coming home for Christmas is not always what we dream and hope it to be. There is dullness of spirit everywhere.
Many exiles have returned home this Christmas, and some are here this evening.
Some have found their fond memories of home renewed, and are enjoying a homecoming filled with family fun, love, and peace.
Some have found coming home to be less than enjoyable. Some are disillusioned, finding themselves enmeshed in family conflict and strife.
Some are realizing with pangs of homesickness that they can never come home to the home they nostalgically remember, because that childhood home has disappeared. It has changed!
Some here this evening could not go home; it was too far, or too costly.
Some had no home to go to, and have come to church.
Some, in fact many folks across our country this evening, and their numbers are sadly increasing, have no home at all. They live on streets, in their cars, or in shelters.
Why is coming home sometimes not as fulfilling and satisfying as we would like? Why does there often feel as if something is missing? Because we have more than one home to come home to! When we don't admit or understand or recognize we have more than one home, we will never really come home. We live in two worlds, a world of ordinary experience and a world of spirit. We moderns tend to forget there is a world of spirit. But, God is spirit. We are created by spirit, and our true home is with God in the world of spirit. Jesus, the Christ-child grown up, lived solidly, wholly, and completely in both worlds. He was a remarkably free person, free from fear and anxious preoccupation. He was free to see clearly and to love. His freedom was grounded in the Spirit, from which flowed the other central qualities of his life: courage, insight, joy, and above all, compassion.
Christmas, especially, reminds us of the world of spirit. The birth of Jesus was accompanied, announced, and celebrated by archangels, angels, the heavenly host, cherubim and seraphim. Both Time and Newsweek magazines featured stories on the current fascination with angles and angel paraphnelia. Don't be too quick to relegate it all to poetry, myth, metaphor and analogy. At the least, such language points us and introduces us to another world, another dimension. Until you are at home in the dimension of the spirit, you're never completely satisfied or fulfilled. You never completely come home, or feel at home, and as a result, you live in a constant state of homesickness, which frustrates you and drives you to seek and search. But, seeking and searching for material things will never satisfy the quest. Even with much, you will feel empty and restless. And, coming home to your childhood home will never completely satisfy the quest. Your true home is with God.
The door to the world or dimension of spirit is opened by God, and entered through prayer, worship, music, art, drama, and meditation. I hope the world of Spirit is opened a crack to you this evening by the glorious music, soft candlelight, the poinsettia splendor, singing carols with wonderful people, and celebrating Holy Communion.
Come home this Christmas. Follow Jesus into the world of spirit. Hold nothing back. Let the Christ child who grew up and became the man of two worlds, take you by the hand, push the door wide open, and lead you home. Trust Jesus with your life. To get through the door, you have to bow your head. You have to admit your inadequacies and humbly accept for yourself the best Christmas gift of all, the gift of your salvation which was purchased for you by the birth, life, and sacrificial death of Jesus Christ. Come home.
© 1993 Douglas I. Norris