The house where I grew up is being sold this year. For the first time in over four decades, I will not be going to my childhood home for Christmas.
While I treasure the home I now share with my dear husband and children, my first home will always be a part of me. Now, as the Advent candles grow smaller, the excitement I usually feel about heading home has been replaced with a longing for the place where I cannot go. How can it be that I will never turn into our street, park the car in our driveway, walk up the stone path, and enter the door I’ve been pulling open since I could reach the door handle? How can it be that I will never sit at the breakfast table with coffee and a newspaper, never watch the children climbing the cherry blossom tree that I used to climb, never open Christmas presents beside the electric train set with the tiny ice skaters that skate in figure-eights?
I’m not alone; I know this. Most of us long to go home for Christmas, but we aren’t children anymore, and every year seems to pull us farther away. Some of us watched, brokenhearted, as our childhood homes were sold. Some moved so much that no one place ever really felt like home. Many lost their childhood homes through divorce—even if it wasn’t sold, it doesn’t feel as much like home anymore when the family is apart.
Those who do still have a home to visit might have a hard time getting there for Christmas. Maybe they are in the military, stationed abroad. Maybe they are doctors or nurses or grocery store clerks and have to work. Maybe they live thousands of miles (and dollars) away, or are too sick to travel.
For some people, it might be emotionally hard to be around family members with whom they never truly feel at home. Others are missing loved ones so desperately that Christmas will never feel like Christmas and home will never feel like home again without them.
We all carry something in our hearts that longs for home. Many of us also carry the feeling that we can’t truly go back there again. Home, where our entire family gathers and laughs and loves and we don’t have to worry about death or loss or separation or growing older. Home, where we all feel like children again, steeped in simplicity and peace.
Christmas is supposed to bring us there, isn’t it? Don’t the seasonal songs and movies tell us that we are supposed to be “home for Christmas”? If it is supposed to be a time of joyful anticipation for that day when everyone gathers with our families in our common home, then why do so many people feel a longing and a sense of loss at Christmas time—a longing for the long-ago home we knew, or the one we never knew but wished we had, and a sense of loss for a place where we cannot be?
To make sense of this paradox of sorrow in a time of joy, it helps to stand beneath the Star of Bethlehem, and look at it in the light of the Nativity.
At the first Christmas, Jesus didn’t go home. He left His home. He left His home in heaven, with His Trinitarian Family, in order to be with us here on earth.
At the first Christmas, Mary and Joseph didn’t go home. They left their home in Nazareth and ended up in a stable instead of a house, surrounded by animals and strangers instead of their family members, laying the Baby Jesus in a feeding trough instead of a bed.
If the Holy Family couldn’t be home for Christmas, then the rest of us who can’t, either, can remember that we are in good company. How often do we try to emulate the Holy Family and fall short? Here is one way we can be like them without even trying.
And if we begin to believe that we will never be able to go home again, we can remember something else, too.
“In my Father’s house, there are many rooms;” Jesus says in John 14:2, “if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?”
We have a home. We long for it and miss it, not because we once had it and lost it, but because we haven’t arrived there yet. We want to be home at Christmas, not because Christmas lore tells us we should, but because home, our true home, is where Jesus is, and at Christmas, we long to be with Him. We want to be in a home that makes us feel like children again, safe and loved. We want to be with our loved ones, all of them—those still here and those who have gone before us. We want to be in a place where love lives forever.
That place does exist. It’s just not here. It’s in eternity. If we experienced something like it in childhood, that goodness was only a hint of what is to come. If we never had a good home, or if the one we had was torn away from us, our chance is not over. It is tempting to look backward at memories and to believe that our hope for happiness is in there in the past. But our hope is not in the past. Our hope arrives on Christmas so that He can lead us to our real home.
We want to be home for Christmas, because our hearts belong there—in our heavenly home. In that house with many rooms, whole families can be together, joyful and triumphant, singing “Gloria in Excelsis Deo!” for all eternity.
May we place our hope in the Holy Infant of Bethlehem. May He lead us to the place He Himself prepared for us, and grant us the grace to follow Him there. May we remember, this Christmas and always, that the longing in our hearts is for Him. And at the end of our earthly days, may He bring us home.