From the Pastor’s Desk:
Home at Christmas
by Rev. John DeBevoise
Home is a regular theme at Christmas — lots of Christmas songs reference it, and many Christmas cards show idealic images of homes decorated with family gathering around some sort of hearth, even if it’s a digital one.
It’s an interesting dynamic since the Gospel tells us that Jesus was clearly not at home when he was born. His parents were away from their home in Nazareth because they had been compelled to travel to a different city because of government regulations, taxes and a census.
This year we are once again sharing with the Bel-Mar Presbyterian community as they merge into PCPC. Their historic church home is in a vulnerable place. We don’t know yet what its future will be. I wonder how many Christmas Eve services have been held at Bel-Mar. Will this be the last? Who grew up going to Christmas Eve services there? The Bel-Mar folks are invited to all the PCPC Advent and Christmas services and activities, and in turn we are publicizing their Charlie Brown Christmas movie and sing-along (Dec. 14th at 5:30pm), and the time of the Christmas Eve service at Bel Mar (6:30pm). I know a number of folks from PCPC attended that Christmas Eve service at Bel-Mar last year, which had candlelight, carols, and communion.
When my mom and dad moved from their home of nearly 40 years into the retirement center I was anxious for them about what it might mean for their Christmas rituals. I was surprised at how easily they adapted to sharing in the community Christmas celebrations there, the large common tree in the parlor area of the residence, the Sunday Christmas lunch that everyone in the retirement center took part in and to which they invited their families, the manger scene that had always been up in my parents’ foyer was replaced by a shared manger scene in the corridor of their hall. And they seemed fine with that, even enjoying it.
What surprised me was how easily they adjusted to it. How happily they seemed to embrace the new rituals and find joy in them. I came to see that it wasn’t the physical artifacts of Christmas that had been nurturing their faith and practice for 63 years of marriage but rather the fellowship and spiritual truths that those crèches and traditions represented.
I’m in a new house this Christmas after 25 years in the last one. And that caused me to see with new eyes how many different homes I actually have been in in the journey of my own Christmases — at least nine. I had such a sense of persistent tradition at Christmas that it obscured the reality that my own Christmas celebrations have taken place over at least nine different homes. I don’t recall having anxiety about being able to keep Christmas in a new place as I moved. It’s interesting that I had that anxiety for my parents.
Many people reading this will either themselves be in new places this Advent and Christmas, or will be aware of loved ones who will be a new places. It’s good for us to remember in the midst of change that the Advent and Christmas story is a narrative about humans learning that whether they find themselves in a stable, or in a palace, our true home is with God. And Christmas shares the good news that “God is with us.” Emmanuel. Whether we are in a hospital, a refugee camp, a different place than we have ever been before, or whether this Christmas we are in the old homestead to which we’ve been traveling back as long as we can remember, Christmas is the celebration that God is with us, and in Jesus we are at home with God, in the circle of God’s family.
I love this familiar part of G. K. Chesterton’s poem “The House at Christmas” that is often quoted at the end of Christmas sermons:
To an open house in the evening
Home shall men come,
To an older place than Eden
And a taller town than Rome.
To the end of the way of the wandering star,
To the things that cannot be and that are,
To the place where God was homeless
And all men are at home.