There’s perhaps no season of the year that speaks home to us like Christmas. So many of my own concepts about home, about memories and traditions and family times, have to do with this time of year.

As years pass and things change, that sense of home for Christmas may feel more elusive. You may have experienced a lot of change in the past few years. Traditions may have shifted as your own family is growing and as you build traditions of your own.

But what is home?

It’s not lost on me that the first Christmas story, the account of the birth of Jesus, includes Mary, his mother, and Joseph, his adoptive father, being far from what they knew as home. While they were in Bethlehem as part of a census, and they had ancestral roots to the area, it wasn’t where they had been living. It wasn’t where their community and their extended family were. That first Christmas felt like anything but home as they took shelter in a stable, and Mary gave birth to her first child, Jesus.

No aunts or sisters or her mother to soothe her. No familiar sights as she labored. Just a man to whom she had only been engaged and then married to for a handful of months and the animals housed in the stable alongside her.

Now that my own parents have passed on, now that my brothers and I are raising and launching our own kids and our times of gathering all our crews together for Christmas have given way to our kids’ complex school and work schedules, I find myself often longing for home. For those times when my brothers and I would bolt out of our bedrooms in the predawn hours, eager to see what was beneath the Christmas tree. I find myself missing this casserole dish that my mom made at Christmas, some wild combo of chicken, a packet of dried French onion soup, and chipped beef. Somehow that dish became part of the taste of home for me. I miss the live tree that was barely hanging on by Christmas day, pine needles crunching under our feet in the shag carpet as we ran into the living room to open presents.

Home for Christmas. It seems so very close and yet at the same time like a dream from a different time.

The eternal God is your dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms.

Deuteronomy 33:27, ESV

Maybe that’s why I’m so partial to the Christmas song I’ll Be Home for Christmas. It was written by Kim Gannon and Walter Kent in 1943 and became a hit as the iconic Bing Crosby crooned its lyrics over the airways. Its poignant lyrics tapped into that longing to be back among the familiar and family at the holidays.

Part of what made the song so powerful at the time is that it was written at the height of World War II, when so many people were experiencing loved ones being away from them, fighting in the war, in unfamiliar and dangerous circumstances.

It makes me think back to Mary and how she might have felt on that first Christmas, maybe longing for home but knowing her life had forever changed. She was on a battlefield of sorts in that distant stable, fighting through a birth that would bring the Prince of Peace. 

It makes me think about the Israelites in the Old Testament, who headed out for the promise land, but still feltl the pull of Egypt at their backs. They battled a homesickness for a place and time that had limited them, and it took long years for them to learn to fight to reach what had been promised.

Sometimes we long for something we call home that was beautiful and sweet. Sometimes we long for something we call home that wasn’t great, but it was all we knew

Lord, through all the generations you have been our home. 

– Psalm 90:1

This Christmas, whether you’re getting to live right in the center of what feels like being home for the holidays or if you’re navigating being away from the familiar and the beloved, I have a thought.

One of my grandmother’s favorite hymns has the line, “This world is not my home, I’m just a passing through, my treasure are laid up somewhere beyond the blue. The angels beckon my from heaven’s open door and I can’t feel at home in this world anymore.”

My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?

John 14:2

That hymn reminds me that home isn’t what we have here. It’s what is waiting for us on the other side of this life. It doesn’t mean that we can’t love and enjoy these temporary expressions of home we have here on earth. What it does mean is that however this Christmas rolls out, we have something so much greater waiting for us. That home will be a place of reunion that won’t require goodbyes. That home will be one that Jesus has already prepared for us. 

That’s the home I want to long for. At Christmas. At all times. Remembering what my true home is reminds me to keep looking toward that place, instead of looking back.

Home for Christmas. For those of us who walk in faith, it’s a different kind of Christmas song. And what a home it will be.