‘Going home for Christmas’ is a phrase that we might be familiar with. People will be travelling up and down the country and across the globe to spend Christmas with loved ones. The University of Derby has prepared a helpful checklist for its first-year students who will be returning home. They advise that the students need to ‘Prepare the way…as being at univisity has probably changed you in some way.’ They offer the helpful tip ‘If you've made dramatic changes to your appearance don't wait until you get home for your family to find out about them. The shock may start your visit home badly.’ But, wisely, the university also acknowledge that home may have changed too: ‘Your family have had to adjust to you not being around and this may have changed the way things happen at home. You may also find that your friends from home have changed in some way.’
Coping with change is somehting all of us face with mixed emotions – we may feel excited but we may also feel threatened. It strikes me that one of the things we value most about Christmas is those things that we feel familiar with – the carols, the gift-giving, the food, whatever traditions we grew up and hold dear. All of these things are somehow a way of feeling at home.We feel disappointed if we don’t get to sing the carols we know or if the TV schedule is changed. We no longer feel at home.
Yet the Christmas story as we read it in the Gospel accounts in the Bible. The first Christmas did not take place in the comfort of Nazareth, the home of Joseph and Mary, but the city of Bethlehem. In Luke and Matthew's account of the Birth of Jesus we see how many people in the story were not "home" for the first Christmas, the Jesus, Mary and Joseph were among them. Then there were the three wise men, who where from "the East." Probably the closest thing we find in these accounts of participants being close to home were the shepherds who are written as being "in that region". While they were close to Bethlehem it is not known where they actually originated.
During these Christmas days we might come to see there is something to ponder about being ‘home for Christmas’. Many people are unable to spend Christmas with their loved ones because of work or illness. Many will spend Christmas alone, perhaps by choice and in some cases through no choice of their own. Creating a sense of being ‘at home’ at Christmas is surely about the hospitality we are able to offer to others, and the hospitality we are prepared to receive from God. Merry Christmas to all.
Revd Steven Rothwell