Everybody wants to be home for Christmas. Everybody wants to spend Christmas with family. But some people can’t be home or don’t have family. Some people are homeless or feel homeless, especially at Christmas time. Some people are sick and estranged from home at a hospital or nursing care facility. They did not want to spend Christmas this way.
Mary and Joseph did not want to spend Christmas where they did either. They probably would have preferred to be home in Nazareth with their family and friends. If Mary had to give birth to her child in Bethlehem, at least they wanted a room at the inn where they would be safe and warm. Far from home and the company of family, Mary and Joseph spent Christmas in a stable in the company of animals and shepherds. That is not what they wanted. But it is what God wanted. Because God wanted to be with us in all our unwanted poverty and suffering so that we might be with Him in the glory that is all we ever wanted and more.
“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14). “The Word was God” (John 1:1) and yet he made our dwelling place his own. He, through whom “all things came to be” (John 1:3) had given us the earth as our home. In his Incarnation, he made our home his home and welcomed us into his family, giving us “power to become children of God” (John 1:12). Christ was born to us so that we could be “born . . . of God” (John 1:13). Christmas is indeed about home and family, but it is not just about terrestrial homes or natural families. Christmas is, first and foremost, about God making his home with us so that we can be at home in Him – God becoming one with us in our human family so we can be one with Him in His divine family.
In Jesus, God came to dwell among us, not in a palace or penthouse, but in a manger. He came to be at home in the homeliest of our dwellings, to claim as brothers and sisters the outcasts of the human family. He came to seek the lost, to cure the sick, to give sight to the blind. He did that so we might all recognize that we are lost, sick, and blind and turn to him and be saved.
The scene at Bethlehem depicted in the Christmas crèche tells of this divine purpose. There are poor shepherds and dumb animals and a dwelling unfit for human habitation – a display of the poverty into which the Son of God descended. And there are angels and the star and exotic visitors bearing treasure – forshadowing the glory into which the newborn child will raise up his human brothers and sisters. Mary and Joseph had not wanted to be part of that scene, just as Jesus, in his humanity, did not want to submit to torture and death. But they, like him, wanted that the Father’s will be done. They accepted the Christmas God wanted for them and wondered at the beauty of God’s gift to them that day. “Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart” (Luke 2:19) and Joseph must have done likewise.
What is the Christmas God wants for you and me? What is the Christmas God wants for those people who, in different ways, find themselves estranged from home and family? Those are questions we cannot fully answer. Mary and Joseph could not have fully anticipated the Christmas God would reveal to them. But Mary had said to God’s messenger, “May it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38), just as her son would later say to his heavenly Father, “Not as I will, but as you will” (Matt 26:39). We are invited to have that same kind of trust, confident that the Christmas God wants for us will be better than anything we might want for ourselves, assured that someday we will wonder at the beauty of God’s Christmas gift.
We can know this: The Christmas God wants for us will find us at home and in the company of family. Perhaps that will involve the warmth and comfort of a house or apartment we call home and the security of a human family in which we know belonging. Perhaps it will not. In any case, we can be sure that God wants us to know and to feel, now more than ever, that we are at home in Him who made his home with us and we belong together in the family of Jesus our brother, in whom we know God as our Father. Christmas merrily proclaims that this home and this family is where you and I most truly belong.