Home For Christmas: When It Is More Blessed To Receive
I saw a cartoon recently which caught my attention. It pictured a little girl sitting down with her baby brother on her lap. She is teaching him the story of Christmas, but she has it a little mixed up. This is her version:
“Jesus was born just in time for Christmas up at the North Pole, surrounded by eight tiny reindeer and the Virgin Mary. Then, Santa Claus showed up with lots of toys and stuff and some swaddling clothes. The Three Wise Men and some Christmas elves all sang Christmas carols, while the Little Drummer Boy and Scrooge helped Joseph trim the tree. In the meantime, Frosty the Snowman was outside, pointing up to the sky toward this big star, and Pontius the Pilot was getting the plane ready for the flight to Egypt!”
Isn’t that wonderful? Of course, we can understand the little girl’s dilemma. There is a lot of confusion about Christmas. But one thing is certain. The season is so special that it plants within us a great longing to be home for Christmas. Just as the shepherds of old were drawn to the stable, even so at Christmas today we are drawn toward home. There is a deep sense of nostalgia tying together the words “home” and “Christmas”. We want to be there physically, to be there with everybody. Remember how Bing Crosby used to sing it: “I’ll be home for Christmas, You can count on me…”, and “there’s no place like home for the holidays.”
Everywhere we go during this season, we hear this strong theme. On the CD player in the den, on the radio in the car, on the intercom in the department store—over and over, we hear the longing to be home for Christmas. Did you happen to see the special program on television the other night about the Battle of the Bulge? Fifty years ago, this Christmas Day, thousands of our American soldiers were fighting and dying in the Ardennes Forest in Belgium. It was bitter cold. They were virtually surrounded and in danger of being cut off and destroyed. Yet, even in the midst of that desperate circumstance, our young soldiers were singing the carols of Christmas. As the news camera focused in on one after another, their faces lined and drawn with pain and exhaustion, they kept repeating the same words: “I wish for only one thing. I wish I could be home for Christmas.”
It is a terribly painful experience when you realize that you can’t get home for Christmas. Have you ever gone through that? I certainly have. It is a sad, lonely, blue, almost desolate feeling. You can picture everybody else there at home together, where you have always been—and you can’t be there. Let me tell you, that’s painful. And, of course, that’s why Christmas can be so difficult for those who have lost a loved one during the year, because this is the time when we miss them the most. It’s the time when we have all been together before, and now we can’t be together—and, oh, how it hurts! Yes, there is a great longing to be home at Christmastime.
Recently, I was out at the airport and saw a scene which captured what I am talking about. There was a family waiting at one of the gates for a plane to arrive. There was an older couple, an attractive younger woman in her late 20’s, and two little children. They were so excited, so anxious for the plane to arrive. When the plane parked at the gate and the passengers came streaming down the jetway, one of them was a handsome young man in a military uniform. The young woman, obviously his wife, threw her arms around him, hugging him and kissing him. The older woman, who was, of course, his mother, rushed over and hugged him from the side. The two little children were squealing with delight and holding onto his legs and tugging on his coat. The older man, his father, stood off to the side, waiting his turn, with big tears rolling down his cheeks. It was like a scene from a Norman Rockwell painting—it could have easily have been entitled: “Home for Christmas.”
That scene was so symbolic of what everybody feels. We want to be home, physically home, for Christmas. However, since that is not always possible, there is another kind of being at home at Christmas which actually may be even more important. I want us to look at that today.
First, we need to be “at home” with the family.
Mark this down and never forget it: there is a big difference between everybody being at home and being “at home” with everybody!
You see, there are people who are separated from each other by hundreds or even thousands of miles this Christmas season, but there is a warm glow in their hearts because they feel “at home” with their family, “at home” with the people they love, “at home” with each other, even though they are not physically together. That’s what the last line of the Christmas song really means. “I’ll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams.” In other words, I love you, and I am with you in spirit is what that means.
Unfortunately, there are other people who do not feel at home with their family. They may be together physically. They may be in the same room; they may eat at the same table; they may even share the same bedroom—but there is a chill in the air! There is estrangement, alienation, hostility, anger, and bitterness made even more biting by the sacredness of the Christmas season. Have you heard about the man at a party one evening who walked over to a woman and said: “You are wearing the most beautiful diamond ring I have ever seen!” She explained: “It’s the Chapman Diamond—and a curse comes with it.” Taken aback, the man asked: “A curse comes with it? What’s the curse?” The woman scowled and said: “Mr. Chapman!” Well, that’s a light treatment of a serious matter. What could be more tragic than seeing someone in our family as a curse, rather than a blessing?
One evening, some years ago, Dr. Barry Bailey was visiting a couple in their home. They were interested in joining the church, but Dr. Bailey sensed an uneasiness. Suddenly, the woman turned to her husband and said: “I’m going to tell him the truth about our family.” She then went on to say that for seven years her husband and their son had not spoken to each other. They lived in the same house, passed each other coming and going, and never acknowledged each other’s presence. Dr. Bailey turned to the man and asked what had started the problem. The man admitted that, after all this time, he couldn’t remember what had started it all, but then he said firmly: “I’m a man of my word. I vowed I would never speak to that boy again, and I mean to keep my word!” Sad, isn’t it? Sad when we are not “at home” with our family.
At Christmas, it is bad to be separated by miles of distance, but it’s worse, much worse, much, much worse to be emotionally and spiritually separated from your family, to be alienated from the people God has given you to love in life. So, if there is a rift in your family, if there is a communication breakdown, if there is some unresolved hurt, now is the time to get it healed. Now is the time to put it right. Christmas is the time of love and forgiveness and peace and reconciliation. Christmas is the time to be “at home” with your family. Remember, there is a big difference between everybody being at home, and being “at home” with everybody.
Secondly, we need to be “at home” with ourselves.
More and more, psychologists are telling us that we can’t feel good about life and other people until we feel good about ourselves. They call it “healthy self-esteem.” I call it “being at home with yourself.”
So many people today are not “at home” within, they’re not at peace with themselves. They are struggling inside, battling and fighting with themselves. They feel pulled and strained and fragmented. Yes, many of us can identify with the character in a play who referred to herself as “a civil war.” The comic strip character, Pogo, said it best: “We have met the enemy and he is us.” Be honest. What is the enemy within you right now that’s keeping you from being at peace with yourself? Is it envy or jealousy or resentment or guilt? Is it a grudge that you have been harboring? Is it some ambition which is consuming you? Whatever it is, let me suggest that the simplest way to find peace within yourself is to stop living for yourself and for your own gain and, instead, to start living for others and for God. Our pattern is the Christ who laid aside the glory of heaven and came down to this earth to serve, not to be served.
I have a new friend. He is Brant Gustafson, the head of the National Religious Broadcasters. He has achieved greatness in his life by serving the Lord and serving others. He shared with me a wonderful little piece, which he says has given him a sense of peace. Here it is:
- The world is a better place because Michaelangelo didn’t say, “I don’t do ceilings.”
- The world is a better place because a German monk named Martin Luther didn’t say, “I don’t do doors.”
- The world is a better place because Moses didn’t say, “I don’t do rivers.”
- The world is a better place because Noah didn’t say, “I don’t do arks.”
- The world is a better place because Jeremiah didn’t say, “I don’t do weeping.”
- The world is a better place because David didn’t say, “I don’t do giants.”
- The world is a better place because Peter didn’t say, “I don’t do Gentiles.”
- The world is a better place because Mary didn’t say, “I don’t do virgin births.”
- The world is a better place because Mary Magdalene didn’t
say, “I don’t do feet.”
- The world is a better place because Paul didn’t say, “I don’t do letters.”
- The world is a better place because Jesus didn’t say, “I don’t do crosses.”
One of the best gifts we can give our loved ones and the world around us at Christmas is to be at peace within, to be at home with ourselves. We’ll be better and the world will be better if we say: “I am going to stop living for myself and start living for others this Christmas.”
Best of all, we need to be “at home” with the Lord.
Have you ever noticed how strange it is that people who are not church people are moved by Christmas? They don’t know for sure what it’s all about, but they know it’s something special. They know it ought to be celebrated. Why, some of them actually go and get drunk—and then sing “Silent Night”! Why is that? I think it is because, deep within every human being, whether we acknowledge it or not, there is a restless longing, a gnawing hunger, an irresistible yearning to be at home with God and with His church.
So let me say, with all of the feeling I have in my heart: if you are not part of a church right now, come on home. What a great time to do it! If you have dropped out or slipped away or gotten out of the habit, please come back. We want you. We need you! We will welcome you with open arms. As the War Between the States was winding down, someone asked President Lincoln how he was going to treat the Southerners when the war was over. He replied: “I will treat them as if they had never been away.” That’s the message of the church. Come on home. You will be accepted with love and warmth and genuine goodness. You will learn how blessed it is to receive.
Catholic Digest recently ran a clipping from a church bulletin where a typist had accidentally misplaced an announcement about a bus tour, and so what appeared in the bulletin read as follows: “Today’s worship portrays Christ as the Good Shepherd. He will lead all who seek Him to eternal life. The bus will depart from the church parking lot at 10:00 A.M. I’m ready for the trip. Are you?” Good question. Jesus Christ is ready to lead all who seek Him to eternal life. Are you ready for the trip? Have you made your peace with God? Have you accepted His gift of forgiveness and salvation? Are you “at home” with the Lord and His church? If not, come home this Christmas.
G. K. Chesterton, the noted British poet and theologian, was a brilliant man who could think deep thoughts and express them well. However, he was also extremely absent-minded, and over the years he became rather notorious for getting lost. He was forever forgetting where he was supposed to be and what he was supposed to be doing. On one such occasion, he sent a telegram to his wife which carried these words: “Honey, seems I’m lost again. I’m at Market Harborough. Where ought I to be?” As only a spouse could say it, she wired back a one word reply: “Home!”
That’s what Christmas does—it calls us home. It calls us to be “at home” with our families. It calls us to be “at home” with ourselves. Best of all, it calls us to be “at home” with our Lord Jesus Christ. Come home for Christmas, won’t you?
Home, where you belong!