20 September 2017

That Place We Call Home

Sitting in the back of a seven passenger van, I had a partial loaf of French bread and some gouda cheese spread out on my lap. As I was just about to begin eating, the song “This is Home,” by the band Switchfoot, started to play over my earphones. I took a deep breath, closed my eyes, and smiled. I was home.

raI don’t even know exactly where I was at that moment—somewhere between Chicago and Leesburg, Florida. But, the important thing was I was with my parents, two of my siblings, a cousin, and an international student from China who was joining my family for Christmas break. I had just finished the college semester and was headed to Florida to spend the holiday with my grandparents. It was a sandy Christmas with palm trees wrapped in Christmas lights and time hanging out on the beach instead of playing in the snow, but I would not trade that Christmas for all the snow in Canada.

Like most families, mine is far from perfect, but we still have our traditions that make us who we are; simple traditions that become memories, and create a feeling of home. We took a lot of road trips when I was growing up and usually had someone from some other country staying with us at any given time. I would often come home from school to find that my bed had been given to someone else and would end up spending my weekend home on the living room couch. But, I’ve always loved coming home for Christmas, helping with the holiday baking, shopping for the perfect Christmas presents, listening to Christmas music well into January, and watching It’s a Wonderful Life with my mom.

People just seem happier around Christmas time, and why shouldn’t they. It is a time to celebrate the coming of the Prince of Peace. God Almighty descended to earth in the form of a fragile child. The Christmas story is the beginning of the most incredible chapter in human history, which is why a host of angels sang on the night of Christ’s birth.

While Christmas is known for its good cheer, and we sing songs about coming home for Christmas, the place we call home is not always a happy or simple place. In fact, a friend of mine said once that she hated going home during Christmas breaks because after her parents divorced she constantly felt torn over which parent’s house to spend which part of the holiday with. Formerly happy childhood traditions were no more, and what used to be family time turned into each parent verbally tearing the other one down, not a conducive environment for any type of Merry Christmas.

As long as imperfect people are involved, home will never be a perfect place, but it can and should be a nurturing place, a place where someone feels accepted and free to be open and honest, a place where someone feels loved and appreciated.

Many people do not have that place to belong, and the holiday season can end up being a painful, lonely time. But home does not have to be flesh and blood relatives. Home can be a small group at church, an accountability partner, or a set of adopted grandparents.

Christmas is the perfect time to be intentional about creating a homely environment for people who need one. When my parents worked as missionaries in Africa, on Christmas they would invite all the single missionaries and couples without children over for a Christmas Eve dinner of homemade pizza. Then, on Christmas morning, my parents would invite everyone back for a breakfast of eggs, my dad’s famous homemade sausage, and cinnamon rolls followed by Christmas stockings. There was a lot of laughter and usually some games as well.

My siblings and I loved those Christmas traditions which added countless people to our list of adopted aunts and uncles. One missionary who came every year would especially schedule her time visiting her “home” country so that it did not fall over Christmas saying she felt more at home and more welcome spending Christmas in Africa. Christmas ended up being a richer experience for everyone when more people were added to the mix.

According to the apostle Paul, home is more than simply an earthly idea, which is why Christ came to earth. The Switchfoot song “This is Home” says, “Created for a place I’ve never known.” I love that line. How can you be homesick for somewhere you have never been? It is possible; in fact, it is a good thing to never feel completely at home on this earth. We were created for so much more. In 1 Corinthians 5:1 Paul says, “Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands.” As God’s children, we will never feel fully complete until heaven. Heaven is our eternal home; a place with no more tears or sorrow, no more loneliness, no more broken homes. All the joy and celebration that comes with Christmas is just a taste of what heaven will be like one day.

So celebrate this Christmas season. Pull out the tinsel and make a mess. As soon as the air starts to turn nippy, I’ll be playing Christmas music all day long, and why not? Christmas is a season of new birth, a reminder of hope, a warm glow in the middle of the cold of winter. Get out the hot chocolate and coloured lights. Make some new traditions this year, and rejoice in the miraculous birth of the King of Kings.

But, in the midst of the celebration, be watching for ways to open your home to those who need a place to be for the holiday. No one offered Mary and Joseph a home when they needed a place for Christ to be born, but we can invite people into our homes. Christmas traditions need to be shared and cherished, and the Christmas story is too important to keep inside the church just as it was too important to remain in that tiny Bethlehem stable.

WORDS Ruth Uehle