As “I’ll be home for Christmas” is being played on the radio for the umpteenth time this December, most of us will not think twice about this – of course we’ll be home for Christmas! Meal planning, gift wrapping, church service – so much to take care of, so naturally there is little time for speculation.
Speculation as in: what if we weren’t home for Christmas? What if there was no home to be in? What if we were homeless for Christmas?

Homeless for Christmas

We recently moved out of our apartment, and we haven’t moved in anywhere. As a family, we are temporarily staying with relatives, as part of a larger transition.
So for the first time in 10 years of marriage, not only are we away from our own home – we don’t have our own home!
Before you say it: of course I don’t mean to imply that our situation is anything like actual homelessness, having to live on the street. We don’t have all of our belongings bundled up in a few bags, and we do have a cozy and warm place to sleep every night. We are outside of our country of residence, and yet our situation isn’t anything like the thousands of refugees are facing They are stuck somewhere in transition from the place they had to leave to the place they want to reach. Or perhaps if they made it across the border, they could be now celebrating Christmas in a shelter, in a foreign and strange land.
So why do I mention it? What does our “homelessness” have to do with Christmas?
First of all this: what makes Christmas Christmas?

Christmas Traditions Tied to the Home

“There is no place like home for the holidays”, another song declares during this season.
So many traditions and feelings of Christmas are tied to our home. For instance, the decorations, the smells, where the Christmas tree sits, and how the gifts are arranged around or underneath it. Or maybe you have a Christmas ritual of getting up early on Christmas Day. Perhaps you have a tradition of lazing around on the couch and enjoying a break as a family?

The Humanity of Jesus Affirms Our Humanness

In many ways, Jesus’ coming the earth – the Incarnation – affirms the value of our concrete earthly existence. Time and space matter. Places and food and rituals and traditions are important. Our interaction with the created world, through enterprise, art, construction, and enjoyment, is not merely passing time until Heaven, but living out what it means to be human.
So when we don’t have a place of our own, our rituals, our familiar food and song, how do we as finite human beings still experience Christmas? To be honest, I struggle with this.

If it’s true that feeling follows fact, then we can start with the facts: the eternal Son, uncreated, divine, so vast no mortal mind can comprehend, descended, emptied himself, became one of us. He entered the history of the world that we all share. In a place we can all go and see.

To be precise, the miracle of the Incarnation happened at the moment of conception, not at Jesus’ birth. But what we celebrate at Christmas is that He took that final step, out of the shelter of his earthly mother’s womb, into the confusing mix of brokenness and wonder and hardship and pain and glimpses of joy and majesty that is our world.
He entered our world in circumstances that are shocking in their commonality: born to working class parents, in unstable economic conditions (Jesus’ earthly family would relocate twice more before settling down in Nazareth), without even the support of close friends or relatives.

The Tension of Being Here, but Not From Here

And yet…
Yet this baby Jesus transcends. In that manger, he is immanent, completely Immanuel – God with us. And he is also the promised Messiah, the One that has been prophesied about for hundreds of years. Angels sing his praise as he comes into our world. A star marks the place of his birth and earliest days, and magi come to do him homage, bearing gifts fit for a king.
The tension that marks his whole life, and every believer’s as well, is present here already: he fills this space on earth as completely and naturally as only a true human being can; Jesus is indeed the second Adam – man as man should be. And at the same time, he is God with us, and his majesty tangible. His authority marks him as someone far beyond our comprehension, not as someone who is part of creation, but its author.

Even God was Homeless at Christmas

As we are “homeless” this Christmas, this is what I have been reflecting on: the space-and-time Jesus, more easily grasped and worshipped and related to in the forms of familiar traditions, in familiar places, with familiar people, may elude us when we are out of our common setting. And consequently, my eyes are directed towards the out-of-this-world Jesus, the one who does not fit in a manger, who is not at home here with us, but made everything that we call home. This Jesus, even though he walked this earth like a landowner might walk his property, never called it his home. He was, in a deep sense, homeless, and he instructed us, his followers, to yearn with him for our true home: when heaven and earth unite, and a new world is being born, only then will our homelessness come to an end.

G.K. Chesterton grasped this majestic truth in this poem:

A child in a foul stable,
Where the beasts feed and foam;
Only where he was homeless
Are you and I at home:
We have hands that fashion and heads that know,
But our hearts we lost—how long ago!
In a place no chart nor ship can show
Under the sky’s dome.
To an open house in the evening
Home shall men come,
To an older place than Eden
And a taller town than Rome.
To the end of the way of the wandering star,
To the things that cannot be and that are,
To the place where God was homeless
And all men are at home.

G.K. Chesterton, “The House of Christmas,” from Robert Knille, ed., As I Was Saying (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1985), 304-5

More from Chesterton…

A special thank you to my husband Simon for authoring this fantastic post.

From our family to yours, we wish you a very Merry and Joy-filled Christmas wherever you may be!

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