Many of us have a ‘Christmas Hits’ cd, which we get out every Christmas. Or we might source a similar playlist from Spotify. One of the most well known ‘Christmas Hits’ is ‘Driving home for Christmas’ by Chris Rea.
Its a familiar, enduring image. Many of us will have done it, or will be doing it this Christmas. Travelled distances to gather together with our loved ones. This is how we think of Christmas. It is how it is sold. Literally. The happy family gathered around the tree. The floor astrewn with presents. A dining table packed high with goodies, food and drink. Happy, smiling faces. Its a lovely image. We want to believe it. We want to believe it for ourselves and for others. For some it rings true, this ‘homely Christmas’. But for many it doesn’t.
It wasn’t true for the original Christmas family – Mary, Joseph and the newborn Jesus. In fact, for all of the characters in the original Christmas story, none of them were at ‘home’. Think about it…
For the angels, their home was in the spiritual dimension the Bible calls ‘Heaven’.
First century Palestinian shepherds were a nomadic people. Rootless wanderers, considered as an under-class and looked down on.
Although they had travelled to the home city of their ancestors – Bethlehem – Mary and Joseph were far from their actual home, which was Nazareth in the region of Galilee. In this sense we could say they were temporarily ‘homeless’. Without shelter, until they were ‘vulnerably accommodated’ in what was probably an outhouse for sheltering pack animals of those who had come to Bethlehem for the census.
The Wise Men, or Magi – who visited Jesus some time after the birth, were far from their homelands in the region now known as Central Asia (possibly Persia/Iran), and had been on the road for months, perhaps years, following, as they were star charts that led them to where the Holy Family was.
After the Magi had left Jesus, he was forced to leave his homeland in hurry, under threat from the despotic King Herod, who was looking to kill him, and to take refuge in nearby Egypt (hardly a safe place for Jews at the time). Jesus and his parents were refugees.
In one sense then Jesus was born ‘homeless’, surrounded by displaced people. There have always been homeless people, it is true. Jesus himself said that ‘the poor you will always have WITH you’ (with the accent on ‘with’ – the poor are with us. They are us). Yet, homelessness in the UK has reached epidemic proportions – driven I believe by welfare ‘reforms’. Here’s some recent stats:
When I first arrived in Liverpool I helped set up the Liverpool City Centre Street Pastors initiative, aimed at assisting the police, the emergency services, and the local authority in looking after vulnerable people on the streets of the city centre from 10pm to 5am on weekend evenings. The initiative is still going strong. You may have seen the Street Pastors yourselves when you’ve been out on the streets of our towns and cities. They are all volunteers from local churches. As Street Pastors we came across and tried to help homeless people whenever we could. We often met the same characters, some of which had been rough sleeping for years. Others were ex-service people, ex-offenders, and young adults who had found themselves on the streets for a whole host of reasons. I can tell you, visiting Liverpool city centre over the last year, their numbers have risen significantly and shockingly.
Spare a thought, or even better a prayer, for the homeless, the vulnerably accommodated, refugees and migrants this Christmas. How about taking something with you, a gift to give a homeless person next time you are in town? I was moved by a news piece on the tv the other evening about a six year old boy who was handing out woolly hats and gloves to rough sleepers. A really lovely gesture. Childlike gestures are often the most effective.
As Jesus-followers, we worship a homeless saviour. In adulthood Jesus said of himself, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” (Luke 9: 58).
In one sense then Jesus was born ‘homeless’ – displaced. Yet in another sense Jesus was born and made his home, not in a particular ‘place’, but in the world. Those who gathered around his birth – Mary, Joseph, the angels, shepherds, Magi, the animals who may have been there (there may have been other people, who knows?) – they had made their ‘home’ with Him.
Let us invite Jesus into our homes and to our table this Christmas. C.S. Lewis calls Jesus the ‘unseen guest’. Our Bishop, Paul., speaks of the ‘poor man at the table’. ‘Christ Mass’ literally means ‘The Feast of Christ’. Whoever and wherever we are this Christmas, we can be ‘at home’ with Jesus, the One who makes His ‘home’ with us.
Keith Hitchman, Christmas 2017