Princeton University Religious Life

Home for Christmas

The Rev. Dr. Alison L. Boden
Princeton University Chapel
December 24, 2016
Luke 2:1-20

            Home for Christmas – that means so many things, doesn’t it.  We’ve just passed the 75th anniversary of Pearl Harbor, which sent a generation off to war, a war in which one of its great holiday ballads proclaimed, “I’ll be home for Christmas, but only in my dreams.”  Home can indeed be a very far-off place of longing. 

            Many of us, myself certainly included, find great joy in what we do to our home for Christmas.  The decorating and the baking don’t just give me the holiday spirit, they connect me to older generations in my family who taught me to do this; they connect me to my daughter, as we do it now together.  A year ago, a friend shared with me a piece written by a friend of his, which is all about the deeper meaning of what we do to our home for Christmas.  It’s a version of I Corinthians 13, a passage many of us have heard most often at weddings.  It declares, “Love is patient, love is kind.”  Here is the Christmas version!


Adapted by Dotty Kay Stillman


If I decorate my house perfectly,

With natural Maine wreaths and plaid bows,

With strands of twinkling icicle lights and shiny gold balls,

With my hand-crafted advent calendar and hanging crocheted snowflakes,

And spend precious time creating a beautiful centerpiece for the Christmas dinner table,

But do not show love to my family and friends,

I’m just another “Christmas Decorator”- and I am nothing.


If I slave away in the kitchen,

Baking dozens & dozens of Christmas sugar cookies, and shaping popcorn balls,

And preparing a gourmet Holiday meal,

But do not show love to my family and friends,

I’m just another “Holiday Cook” - and I am nothing.


If I ring Handbells in several Churches and at the Public Library,

And sing Christmas Carols in the halls at the nearby retirement community,

                 And clean, repair, and price boxes

                   and boxes of donated items for the HollyDays Fair Re-gifting Table,

And if I make extra donations to the many Christmas Charities,

But do not show love to my family and friends,

I gain nothing and it profits me nothing.


If I trim our spruce tree with blinking multi-colored mini-LED lights,

And hang my children’s long-ago hand-made Christmas ornaments,

Prepare and send the traditional Family Christmas Letter - and add photos,

If I attend a bunch of holiday parties and Yankee Swaps,

And sing in our Church Choir on Christmas Eve,

But do not focus on Christ,

I have missed the point.


LOVE is patient:

LOVE stops the cooking to hug the child;

LOVE takes time from all the obligations to phone the lonely friend;

LOVE sets aside the gift-wrapping to kiss the spouse.


LOVE is kind, though harried and tired.

LOVE doesn’t envy the neighbor who has coordinated Christmas china and table linens,

Or who is spending the holidays in Florida.

LOVE is not irritable and doesn’t yell at the kids (or grandkids) to get out of the way,

but is thankful that they are there - to be in the way.


LOVE doesn’t give only to those who are able to give in return,

But rejoices in the ability to give to those who can’t.


LOVE bears all things, believes all things,

Hopes all things, Endures all things.

LOVE never fails.


As for video games, they will break;

As for doll clothes, they will tear,

Snowsuits will become out-grown,

Fruit will spoil; laptops will crash,

Emerald earrings will be lost;

Sweaters will snag;

Ice skates and golf clubs will rust,

Fruitcakes will eventually be thrown away  -


But the greatest gift of all is LOVE and the GIFT of LOVE endures forever!


            Love was all Jesus had in his first home.  He was homeless, until a kind householder let his teenage parents bunk with the family’s animals in their stable.  To many of us, the idea of being “home for Christmas” means getting to that house or apartment where our extended family is, or the friends who know us best, where we can stay for free, where we are known.  For some, the words “home for Christmas” aren’t where we are going, it’s what we want.  We want home for Christmas – we want the place we call home to become that place of love that would make it a true home, or we want simply an abode that we can come inside of, and escape the elements.  That’s the home that Mary and Joseph got for Christmas.  Home for Christmas was the basic human need at the top of their wish list, and it remains so for the tens of millions of refugees and displaced persons around the world today, alongside others who have been living on the streets everywhere.

            Mary and Joseph were made homeless at the time of Jesus’ birth because of the decree from Rome that every man residing within the Roman Empire be registered along with his family.  To ignore that decree would result, I imagine, in summary execution, so Joseph had no choice but to take his wife, who was at the very end of her pregnancy, on a five day donkey ride to his family’s ancestral hometown of Bethlehem.  The registration was not merely a census; Rome wasn’t interested in demography, or the appropriate allocation of votes in their representative democracy.  They didn’t have one.  Their occupation of the Holy Land was brutal and violent.  The registration was used to remind Jews who was boss, to control them, and to prevent anyone from slipping through the cracks of their extortionary taxation system, in which the poor were made significantly poorer as they paid for the “privileges” they enjoyed as subjects of Rome.  They didn’t just live with their necks under the boot heel; they had to pay for the boot as well.

            That population’s enforced requirement to register their lives, their presence in their land with the government resonates differently with me this year.  We’ve heard calls for the required registration of Muslims within this land, and even for their internment, as happened to Japanese-Americans in the wake of Pearl Harbor.  I have been profoundly moved by the reaction of some in the American Jewish community, part of a global community quite experienced with registrations, who have said that if Muslims are made to register, they will call themselves Muslim and register alongside them.  What beautiful, faithful solidarity.  I think the same kind of solidarity was shown by the householder in Bethlehem who heard a knock on the door at night, and when she opened it and saw a homeless teenage couple in labor, said “My house is packed with my own relatives who are here to register but let me get you some food and other things, and you can stay in our stable.”  She gave what she had; she resisted, in the face of injustice.  She helped give Jesus his home for Christmas; she provided the safety, his parents provided the love.  Home is safety and love. 

            You and I will be Christmas People all year long if this is what we do for anyone, in any way.  Home for Christmas – safety and love – safety and love in settings far beyond four walls and a roof – safety and love at school, at work, on the street, on the bus, in church, in government, in the world.  Safety and love is God’s gift to us on Christmas; we get home for Christmas.  It’s not a new apartment, it’s the birth of the Prince of Peace.  It is the arrival into our benighted world of the Light of the World.  In a time when there is so much that is physically unsafe and not loving, we are still gifted forever tonight with true safety and love.  We get a place to live forever.  God’s long arc of salvation is underway, no matter what we may find under the tree tomorrow or that may happen to us in the days and years to come.

            Star of wonder, star of light - so many beacons has God placed in our path to guide us – to show us the road home.  In a most unexpected and unpromising place – a trough full of hay in a subjugated backwater district of a brutal empire – there God places the Light of the World.  The home he got for Christmas is the one he gives to us – just safety and love.  He re-gifts, you might say, and he asks us to do the same, to be Christmas People making all places into ones of safety and love for all of Gods’ beloved children.  We are to be relentless in our seasonal decorating, festooning every place with love. 

            Star of wonder, star of light – it shines upon us not only on this beautiful evening but every day and evening.  Let us walk in its light, most intentionally.  Westward leading, still proceeding, it guides us to Christ who is everywhere delivering the gift of safety and of love:  Home, for Christmas.  Merry Christmas to all of you!


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