Home for Christmas: Christmas for Home
December 24, 2021 Home for Christmas: Christmas for Home
It was Christmas Eve. Liz and I were living in Atlanta where I was in seminary and she was working as a pediatric nurse. She had the 3 to 11 shift at the hospital that night, and I was home getting things ready for Christmas Day. On my list was an unusual sort of task, but kind of fun—I was looking forward to it.
We had a friend named Gloria, a single mother with four young children. Earlier in the week Liz had helped Gloria shop for presents for her kids; but Gloria had nowhere in her small apartment to hide them, so the plan was for us to keep them until Christmas Eve, when I would deliver them to her apartment after the children were all snug in their beds.
At about 9 that evening, after I’d been to a Christmas Eve service at the church we were a part of, I loaded the presents in the trunk and made my way across town to Gloria’s apartment. I knocked lightly at the door, not wanting to wake the children. No answer. I knocked again. No answer. Knocked a little harder. Nothing.
My first thought was that Gloria had accidentally drifted off to sleep with her children. By now it was almost 10, and I’m sure she’d had a long day—is it possible to have a short day when you’re parenting four young children?
My options were limited. Gloria didn’t have a phone, so there was no way to call her. If I’d had a key to her apartment I could have just slipped in and left the presents inside the door. I knocked again, harder this time. Silence.
It was cold and dark and getting late. But I was determined to deliver on my little errand of mercy. I knew all the bedrooms were upstairs, so I stepped out onto the lawn and called up to the second-floor window, hoping to wake Gloria, or at this point even one of the children if necessary. Gloria! Gloria! Gloria!!
A neighbor peeked through their blinds, obviously a little suspicious. I could just picture them calling 911. “There’s a strange man standing out on the lawn. He’s . . . shouting up at the sky.”
I was getting more frustrated by the minute, and now I had the neighbors watching me, and maybe even calling the police. This was not how I had planned to spend my Christmas Eve.
Have you ever had that thought? This is not how I planned to spend my Christmas Eve. Or my Christmas season. This is not how I planned to spend my year. Not where I intended to be, what I wished to be doing; what I’d hoped the world around me would be like by the end of 2021.
If you’ve ever felt that way, then I know of a story that was written with you in mind. We call it the Christmas story. It’s filled with unsought, unexpected, unwelcome developments and changes in plan.
For starters, Joseph and Mary are faced with a major detour from their life goals with the announcement that Mary would bear the Savior of the world. During her pregnancy they encounter a second detour: a census requirement displaces them from their home in Nazareth.
Arriving in Bethlehem, a third detour: they’re dislodged–literally. A makeshift manger becomes their home for the night, and, as it turns out, for Christmas.
Later in the story, shepherds have to leave their sheep untended in order to observe this wonder of which they’ve been told, the newborn Savior. Eventually magi will face detours of their own along their journey to meet this holy child.
In Luke’s account, no one’s life was going as planned; no one had things turn out the way they expected; and no one was home for Christmas. They were all, in a sense, across town standing out in the cold in somebody’s yard shouting “Gloria!” into the darkness.
Maybe Luke’s disheveled story is meant to speak in a special way to people with their own disheveled stories—disheveled plans or disheveled hopes or a disheveled faith. Maybe Luke’s story is a demonstration of a divine love that seeks to meet us wherever we are, in the middle of life just as it is—frustrating, lonely, disappointing; joy-filled, grateful, contented; or more likely, some combination of the above—a love that seeks to meet us where we are, and make a home. All of a sudden God is nearer than we knew.
I stopped shouting up to the second floor windows and sat down on the apartment steps, trying to figure out what to do next. It was only then I realized what I had just been doing: standing in that yard shouting “Gloria!” like some misplaced angel, my own little one-person Christmas pageant. I couldn’t help but smile.
In the Christmas Eve service I had attended earlier that evening, I’m sure we’d sung “Gloria!” a dozen times. It’s as though I’d inadvertently carried that word with me into my own Christmas detour. Christmas isn’t a place we go; it’s more like a gift that goes with us; a gift of love and grace, hope and joy, good news to share, a gloria to sing in spite of any other thing.
When you and I leave this sanctuary tonight, that word, and this story, will be ours to keep. And to share.
Gloria and her children weren’t even at their apartment that night. No one was home. We caught up with each other the next morning with the children’s presents and I learned what had happened. She and the kids had been visiting her mother that day in another part of town. The city bus schedules had been reduced for the holiday, so late that evening when they went to catch the bus home there was no bus home. One more detour.
They’d had to stay at Gloria’s mother’s for the night. By the time she thought to find her way to a phone to call the house and let me know what had happened I had already left for her apartment, where I was knocking and calling and shouting her name in vain. “Gloria!” Or maybe not in vain.
Let Christ Easter in us, a poet priest once prayed. Tonight we could craft our own version of that prayer: Let Christ Christmas in us. By your grace, O God, let this jostled, joyful story of Jesus’ birth that we find in Luke find us, too; find its way on this very night into our hearts, and there make a home.