More than a few years ago, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York City presented a simple Christmas message, one I’ve never forgotten. “Come home for Christmas!” the message said.
In the Gospel of Luke, we find Mary and Joseph making a difficult journey home to Joseph’s ancestral home in Bethlehem. The story tells us Mary and Joseph were traveling to Bethlehem for a census that would be used to determine taxes payable to the Roman Empire. It seems improbable such a census would be taken at a time of year when travel would be most difficult, and even more improbable that a very pregnant young woman would be making such a journey in a day when the only means of transportation over land were one’s own feet or on the back of a donkey or camel.
The spiritual power of the story of Mary and Joseph’s journey and the momentous birth that took place at journey’s end transcends human logic though, doesn’t it? Truth is sometimes best expressed outside the limited realm of facts.
Bethlehem, spiritually understood, is the “house of bread,” the “house of life.” The life of God expresses as all of us at every moment. In our busyness, too often we fail to notice, appreciate, and honor the divine gift of life by living consciously. In the consciousness Bethlehem represents, we find the spiritual nourishment to take up the next experience in our eternal journey of life. To find this spiritual nourishment, we must first come home for Christmas.
I have known Christmases where I’ve felt so far from Bethlehem, my awareness of my Source, that I found it difficult to believe I could make the journey home. Even if I did make the spiritual journey to Bethlehem, I remember thinking, Would I find a welcome there? After all, even Joseph and Mary, according to Luke’s Gospel, found a very cold reception when they arrived in Bethlehem. Imagine bedding down in a stable or cave when you’re about to deliver your firstborn child!
In one of those years, I decided not to even attempt the spiritual journey to Bethlehem. Christmas was a nonevent for me that year. The year that followed brought a series of troubles that seemed to worsen as the year dragged on. As the next Christmas drew near, my family reached out to me and invited me to “come home for Christmas.” To this day, I’m grateful for the grace that allowed me to say yes to this opportunity.
Home, it is often said, is where the heart is. I pray that, whether with family and friends or by yourself, you will find your heart. However you choose to observe Christmas, I affirm you will know at depth the love of the One who created you, who sustains you, and whose magnificent expression you are.