Luke 2:3-7 – All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for him in the inn.
A long time ago, as a young university student, I used to plan and look forward to going "home" for Christmas. Stored somewhere in my memories is the sense of disappointment and sadness I felt the year that I made it all the way out to the airport, to be told that my flight had been cancelled due to one of those infamous Maritime winter storms. The only way for me to make the journey was to take a chance on the next day's flights. All the scheduled flights were booked, but another might be added to accommodate the stormstayed travellers. There was nothing to do for the night but return to the residence, which was empty of people and voices. The loneliness and homesickness I felt that night remain etched in my memory. At that time, for me to celebrate Christmas meant that I had to be home, among the people I loved.
We have all been influenced by the media pictures of cosy families, "roasting chestnuts by an open fire", gifts under the Christmas tree, good food and good times. Without even realizing it, we have come to feel somehow that this is what we need in order to celebrate Christmas.
Many years ago, a young couple was forced by the laws of their government to celebrate Christmas many miles away from their home and families. They were not even able to enjoy the comforts of someone else's home. All the hotels were booked; the only place available was a stable. Yet it was here, among strangers, that Jesus was born. God chose to make an entrance into our world, not in the midst of a large, happy family gathering, but in a place no one expected, under harsh conditions in a poor region of the world.
No home or church building can contain the One whose birth we celebrate at Christmas, for He comes to make His home wherever you and I prepare to welcome Him. The Lord is with us, willing to enter fully into our existence, whatever that may mean this Christmas. Many people will be without a home this year, or perhaps at home but separated from family members by death, divorce, or some other unhappy circumstance. Some will spend Christmas in hospital. Others will find themselves a continent away, in the midst of peacekeeping duties in dangerous conditions, or helping to bring emergency aid where it is needed.
Wherever we are, whether or not we can summon a sense of happiness and what the world terms "joy", we need to remember that Christmas is more than partygoing and gift-giving and receiving. Christmas is Jesus coming to make His home in our hearts, and warming our lives by His presence. Just as He once came to bring light to a world that had suffered long in darkness, so he enters the darkness of our present time with His love.
Prayer: God of love, may you be born again in our hearts this Christmas, wherever and however we celebrate the birth of Your Son, our Saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen.