My recently acquired membership in the sixty-plus club comes with some surprising benefits among my family and friends. It is definitely true that time seems to travel much faster as once remembered and good memories seem closer while bad ones appear further and further away. Other benefits include an apparent increase of loving patience from those who have recently joined the forty-plus club, more enjoyment of peace and quiet, and because the body has also fallen captive of this time change, this same peace and quiet both seem easier to find. Such was the moment a few weeks ago as I was sipping my coffee and thanking God while simultaneously begging Him for much more help and understanding with a number of impending issues ahead. An indifferent cold wind outside painted the perfect backdrop to be still and stay warm, acutely and highly useful in contributing to the main task of preparing mental notes of what had to get done, what could wait and tracking down those other nagging chores and concerns that escaped the grasp of my memory.
Out of the blue, as if to break in with a flashing news alert, I received a call from my nephew spiced with a tone of fear and restlessness of which I was not accustomed to hearing from him. “Please,” said he, “I’ve got to see you. I have news. I have sad news. I must tell you in person.” Without a doubt, this was truly the best way to get someone’s attention. Unquestionably it worked that morning and soon I found myself driving anxiously to my home to discover the painful yet unrevealed news. While in my car, with my imaginations in overdrive, I thought about the last fifteen years or so since I have watched my nephew grow into a man. It seemed like just yesterday that he was in middle school. Where had the years gone? How did I miss all the in-between growing spurts and pains? Well, I was about to have a front seat to a dramatic turn of events that has since helped shape how I will approach Christmas this year with those closest to me.
“I lost my home,” he staggered through hushed sounds of tears and shallow breaths. “You lost your what?” I followed. I wasn’t sure I heard right. Did he say he lost his comb? Wait, that wouldn’t make any sense so I just sat down to listen more carefully. Seeing as I am not well versed in these financial matters, let us agree to state here for the sake of time and interest, that because of a series of missteps and inaction, he did in fact lose the home he had been dreaming of buying and settling down and now within one excruciating week that dream was about to be boxed into cardboard containers and carried away with the sobering knowledge that anything he would leave behind would be sold, given away or just trashed. Not a pretty sight, for sure. What further surprised me was how much weight he placed in my opinion of him and how I was going to think of him going forth. “Nothing has changed between us,” I said while trying to wrap my mind around all that was transpiring before me. “Now you’ve got to keep moving and find a new home.”
A new home? Those few simple words started to echo curiously in my mind as if I had said something remarkably deep and resilient. Then I looked at my watch. It was less than a month away from Christmas and the whole idea of moving and finding a home made perfect sense. It was the real-life experience of Jesus in the first few minutes of post-birth life on this planet with parents who were probably as forlorn and worried as my nephew. In those few moments of the most difficult unfolding truth for a thirty-year-old to hear, we both realized a sobering, troublesome truth that he was homeless. Maybe not for long, certainly not forever, but right then and there, he was homeless and all of a sudden I felt incredibly helpless and sad, perhaps yet another throwback of emotions finding their roots in the first Christmas.
Jesus was a homeless baby. Not surprisingly, we do not normally have the opportunity to think about this revealing truth inundated as we are every year with all the wonderfully crafted and awe-inspiring Christmas cards, memes, photoshopped pictures and our very nice and serene Nativity Scenes popping up all around us. Yet, the first Christmas, if we think about it in quiet reflection, was hardly full of silent nights and warm cheer, but rather and more accurately painful and even empty, certainly not our modern idea of a merry Christmas. This gut-wrenching aspect of these days are not without great merit and can actually deepen our care and awareness about the reality of this time and actually create in us a spirit that makes life around us so much better and more beautifully significant.
This is not an attempt to guilt people into an over-gushing of temporary charitable acts that start and end in one day. That is self-absorbed guilt-relief and unsustainable. This aspect of homelessness has to be something much deeper and much more significant. You and I are, in essence, homeless because our final home is in heaven and everywhere we live today, no matter what city or state, home or apartment, cave or tent, is, by definition, temporary. If this is true, then how could it shape Christmas and the brave new year we are all about to enter into? Here are a few thoughts:
If we truly understand this Christmas mystery, wrapped not-so-tenderly in stark homelessness, then I believe it will truly change the way we treat each other. Instead of over-reacting when someone offers us a cross word or an ugly, condescending look, remembering that we are all trying to find our way home with varying degrees of success might take the edge off the ferociousness that sometimes characterizes human interaction, especially during this highly overrated buying season to get all the right gifts for all the right people with not enough money to go around or enough time to accomplish it all.
It will also reveal a new way to understand anger and harried frustration, both inside of each of us and the seemingly endless display from others around us. Everyone has lost something. Everyone is afraid of something. And yes, everyone misses someone. Gone unchecked, these subtle realities of being human can create exasperated resentment and pathetic posturing that creates more of the same in other family members and co-workers. Knowing that the first Christmas was about a homeless baby struggling for the basic human needs of food, water and shelter, could very well usher in a new sense of patience and love and certainly forgiveness beginning with a most sincere sense of gratitude of what we do have rather than focusing on what we do not. We would then be invited to approach every life situation from now on with the poignant thought, “How can I make things better?”
Finally, the plight of Jesus and Mary and Joseph could also remind us about our perceived value of possessions. Imagine what they were able to carry. Can you see a bag of toys and the latest electronic-cyber gadgets strapped over the donkey carrying the holy family to and from the manger moment? Hardly. We all know and accept that there is a readily and perennially explosive amount of attention placed on buying and purchasing and getting and receiving gifts around this time. Things. Things. Things. It would not be a hard stretch to remember that this homeless baby would grow up into an awesome human being, the quintessential man, who would then remind us that although the world teaches us to love things and use people, His message would be the opposite, even sealing it with his own final selfless act on the cross.
In a few short weeks, Christmas will be upon us and the comfort and joy that is potentially ours will be waiting once again when we gather around the God-made-Man who was not only born homeless but who also died homeless. Whether you belong to the twenty-plus, thirty-plus, forty-plus clubs or beyond, it’s time to make a brand new memory and relive a timeless one. It is the time to remember to thank God that we have a home waiting for us with all those we miss and remember with great fondness and perhaps even with sad longing. The time has come once again to make room in our souls for the one who was homeless and yet gave each of us an eternal home.
Don’t you want a real Christmas rather than a silly, expensive and self-indulgent one? I know I do. I will try very hard to convince my nephew that he has been given a unique and wonderful chance to experience a phenomenal Christmas that will not only shape the rest of his new year, but recalibrate and reformat the rest of his life.
That’s my hope and I’m sticking with it.