I almost wasn’t brave enough to put it up this year. Do all hearts come home for Christmas? Really? In this season of life, I’ve actually given this question considerable thought. Slowly, I am learning that hearts can come home even when bodies don’t. Good to know.
These days we do not often have our whole family together for Christmas. Our kids are doing what we loved to do when they were young—celebrating Christmas in their own homes, building family traditions and celebrating Christ’s birth in ways that give us great joy. Some years we travel to celebrate with them. Some years we get to celebrate with our nearby New Hampshire kids, and this is happily one of those years.
So why was it extra-hard to put up my favorite Christmas sign this year? There are a number of reasons, I know. But chief among them is what I wrote about in the last post—that we haven’t been able to travel this fall and thus haven’t seen our 8 distant grandchildren for way too long. Too long for this Nana, at least. I miss them deeply. Viscerally. Physically.
I am also approaching the 10-year anniversary (on December 19) of the Homegoing of my mom. My beloved mom, who was, next to my husband, my best friend. I am taken back to our last days with her in hospice. The song comes back: choking back tears, I remember singing to her “Softly and tenderly, Jesus is calling, ‘Come home. Come home. Ye who are weary, come Home.’” More a grief-strangled croak than a song, really. But I think she heard it. And she did just that. She went Home.
All these thoughts about home. And Home. And suddenly it hits me. What we celebrate at Christmas is actually not a coming home. It’s a leaving Home. The One whose birth we celebrate actually left His Home to come to our earthly home so we could one day go to His. Our true Home. Another song: “Thou didst leave thy throne and thy heavenly home / when thou camest to earth for me . . .”
Such an unlikely story we celebrate at Christmas. I love how Frederick Buechner puts it:
“. . . the child born in the night among the beasts…and nothing is ever the same again. Those who believe in God can never in a way be sure of Him again. Once they have seen Him in a stable they can never be sure where He will appear or to what lengths He will go or to what ludicrous depths of self-humiliation He will descend in His wild pursuit of man. . . . He comes in such a way that we can always turn Him down as we could crack the baby’s skull like an eggshell or nail Him up when He gets too big for that.” (The Hungering Dark, pp. 13–14)
His “wild pursuit of man.” Of us. It’s why Matthew reminded his readers of what the prophet Isaiah had foretold: “. . . and they will call him Immanuel (which means God is with us).” (Matthew 1:23) Reason to celebrate, I’d say: God is with us. He came quietly. He left in both alarming violence and stunning triumph. He went Home.
And now He not only beckons us Home—eventually—He also reminds us, as He did His puzzled band of disciples as He ascended into Heaven: “. . . and surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)
God with us. Always. Even to the very end of the age, our age. Surely reason to celebrate. No matter what. No matter where. Home. Or not. Because Home is waiting.
As C.S. Lewis observed, “God refreshes us along the way with some very pleasant inns. But He does not encourage us to think of them as Home.”
So, as we celebrate His leaving Home and ultimately beckoning us Home, from my “pleasant inn” to yours: Merry Christmas!