During the Advent and Christmas seasons, we are featuring devotionals written by clergy of the Greater NJ Annual Conference of the UMC.
1In those days Caesar Augustus declared that everyone throughout the empire should be enrolled in the tax lists. 2 This first enrollment occurred when Quirinius governed Syria. 3 Everyone went to their own cities to be enrolled. 4 Since Joseph belonged to David’s house and family line, he went up from the city of Nazareth in Galilee to David’s city, called Bethlehem, in Judea. 5 He went to be enrolled together with Mary, who was promised to him in marriage and who was pregnant. 6 While they were there, the time came for Mary to have her baby. 7 She gave birth to her firstborn child, a son, wrapped him snugly, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the guestroom.
Recently when I was grocery shopping, an old man was singing to himself behind me. I paused to listen. “I’ll be home for Christmas if only in my dreams.”
What do we do when home for Christmas isn’t an option? What do we do when we’ve had to leave the house that was home, when the kids are living in different places across the country, when we’ve lost the person who was home for
us, or when a pandemic continues to disrupt our traditions of home?
The answer that comes to me is that we’re in good company. The Christmas story hinges on people who left home, some by choice and some by necessity.
Mary and Joseph left their home in Galilee because they had to be registered in Bethlehem, Joseph’s family’s hometown, for a census. It was in Bethlehem that Mary went into labor. But there was no place that was home for them, not even a place in the inn, so they found themselves in a stable. There, Mary’s son was born into the world, far away from home.
And then there were the shepherds who left home to watch their ﬂocks like any other night. But while they were there, an angel interrupted them, frightened them even, and soon they found themselves by a stable to see this new baby.
And then there were magi who left their homes willingly and traveled for miles following a star in the sky that they knew would lead to something life changing, something world changing, even if it was simply a young child in an unremarkable place.
And then you have Jesus himself. Jesus is the divine Word who takes on human form. Jesus left his place at the right hand of God and took on ﬂesh as a tiny baby in the arms of Mary in the middle of the night.
None of these characters is home in the Christmas story. What hope there is in that reality. The Christmas story is one of people leaving home and ﬁnding that God is born even in the place that does not seem like home. The divine comes into the world even in the place that is not where we wanted or expected, in the stable because there was no room in the inn. That’s where God shows up.
So whether we are home or away from home or anywhere in between, whether we are with people who are home for us or away from them, the Christmas story tells us that God is with us, here, there, even far over there. Wherever we are, the divine is here, waiting to be glimpsed in the ordinariness of stars in the sky and animals in the ﬁeld and a baby warm in its mother’s arms. Wherever we are, God is close. God is with us.
May we sense God’s presence as we celebrate the birth of Jesus.
By the Rev. Alison Van Buskirk Philip
For Pondering & Prayer
Prayer: Wherever we are today – may we feel your embrace as we honor and celebrate the birth of our Savior, who chose to make his home among us. Amen.