It was Christmas 1943, with the world at war. By this time, America’s investment ran deep with sweat, blood, sacrifice, and sorrow … with a gritty determination to win.
Bing Crosby’s single release by Decca Records captured the essence of America’s nostalgic melancholy when he crooned, “I’ll be home for Christmas, you can count on me … I’ll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams.”
It’s easy to understand why the song became a Christmas standard. It captures the feeling of a home far away — a place where we fit, a safe place, surrounded by people we love. The feeling is always there, but there’s something about Christmas that magnifies the longing. It’s like a hole in the heart that pines for something just beyond reach.
The German language has a magnificent word to describe this dreamlike yearning. Sehnsucht speaks of an “insatiable longing that nothing earthly can satisfy.”
It’s ironic that Christmas, a season of “peace on earth and good will toward men” would create such deep, inexplicable longings.
New York Times bestselling author Eric Wilson makes the point when he wrote, “Our minds run over a daunting litany of global problems. We hope with our listing to find a meaning, a clue to our unease.”
In another timely book, The Prodigal God, pastor and theologian Timothy Keller described the deep desire to “go home for Christmas,” mixed with the fear that our happy image of home may only be a dream.
“Home,” Keller wrote, “is a powerful but elusive concept. The strong feelings that surround it reveal some deep longing within us for a place that absolutely fits and suits us, where we can be, or perhaps find, our true selves. Yet it seems that no real place or actual family ever satisfies these yearnings, though many situations arouse them.”
If home has become an elusive concept, so has Christmas! In the space permitted me, let me simply observe that what everyone has always claimed as the “real meaning of Christmas” actually and truly is the real meaning of Christmas.
If the true facts of Jesus’ birth evade the world’s attention today, it was essentially the same 2,000 years ago. Not much has changed since His birth.
Many people remain unaware of the incomparable hope he brought to Earth — and still brings to this day. Most of his life-transforming miracles don’t make the headlines or CNN.
But those who gather with their loved ones — in whatever place they call home — and take time to seek him, will experience a wonder and joy that defies logical explanation.
Some things will always be hard to explain or put into words. But that’s OK. When Jesus is kept at the center of Christmas, we will be centered in what matters most for us and those we love.
As Keller writes, “Jesus will make the world our perfect home again. We will no longer be living ‘east of Eden,’ always wandering and never arriving. We will come, and the Father will meet us and embrace us, and we will be brought into the feast.”
Rev. Micah Smith is president and founder of Global Gateway Network (www.globalgatewaynetwork.org) with offices in Richland. Questions and comments should be directed to editor Lucy Luginbill in care of the Tri-City Herald newsroom, 333 W. Canal Drive, Kennewick, WA 99336. Or email firstname.lastname@example.org.