Christmas at home

I’ll be home for Christmas.

It’s the stuff of songs, of sweet movies where the conflict is resolved in two hours just as snow begins to fall; it’s the stuff of our deepest longings and our most bitter disappointments. Since the day God closed the gates on the Garden of Eden, we’ve been wanting to go home. To be home for Christmas seems right and good.

And fraught with tension.

With the celebration of Christ’s birth, we are reminded that Jesus communicates to us God’s desire to for us to come home, to live with him forever in heaven. Jesus is the incarnation of the way home. However, when we gather with our families to celebrate his birth, the joy of the season frequently encounters the fallen reality of our world here on earth.

These people with all their faults — the people who share your name, your heritage, your childhood bedroom — they are the very people for whom God humbled himself in that manger so long ago. The son was born of Mary in order to save your arrogant and angry brother, your petulant sister, your lazy uncle, and yes, even the mean deadbeat who married your cousin. If you find yourself bracing against what could be a contentious Christmas, remember the real hero in the story. Jesus knew about all the crazy under your roof and every other roof from here to eternity and he came to bring us all home.

And Jesus knew about you.

He still does. He knows exactly what you need for peace and joy this Christmas, despite the imperfect setting where you celebrate. Jesus celebrated that first Christmas in a barn teeming with messy creatures. Jesus went first, so that we have a model for how to do Christmas with joy.

He was humble. So often, we clash with the people we’ve gathered because we decide that we are superior — we know better, we know more, we’re holier. What if instead — no matter our age or station in the family — we approached Christmas with humility? What if instead of being eager to prove our ourselves, we were open and curious and earnestly wanted to understand better the people closest to us?

We find that our anxiety or stress is lessened considerably when we take the posture of gathering; gather into yourself the stories of the people you love. Be interested in their details, their questions. Christmas dinner is not a contest. We weren’t put at the table to show people how right we are and how wrong they are. Sometimes, we aim for conquest and we end up crushing in precisely the instances where we should love. “Love … is marked by humility; if we are to understand, forgive, and serve others from the heart, our pride has to be healed and our humility must increase.” (“Amoris Laetitia”)

Why do we go home for Christmas? What compels us to return? It is that desire we all have deep in our souls to be restored to the perfect garden dwelling intended by the creator. We will not truly be at home on this side of heaven. Instead, we return to the people God intended for us, the people he hopes will be our co-laborers in his vineyard, the people who will provide ample opportunities for our spiritual growth, just as we provide such for them.

We go home for Christmas in order to remember and to celebrate the gift that God has given us. We go home to be welcomed by God just as the forgiving father welcomed his wayward son. Despite our unworthiness, we enter under the roof, and there, we have a choice. We can hold onto our pride and keep on being our messy barn selves, or we can celebrate in the grand hall as someone whom Christ himself has called.

We can hold grudges and resentments tightly and let them darken our hearts and our moods. Or we can share the light of Christ — the light he offers so generously — and let it illuminate Christmas at home.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2018

@elizabethfoss