There are many reasons and places to experience a first Christmas away from home. If you have, you understand. Have you thought of the first time anyone spent Christmas away from home – the very first time? Have you thought of Mary and Joseph in this way? About 90 miles south of their home, family and friends in Nazareth, they would experience the very first Christmas in the ancient city of Bethlehem.
Joseph and Mary could not have known what Christmas would eventually mean to history, and how it would become the one time of the year when so many around the world wanted to be home. Nevertheless, they were certainly aware that the night when Mary’s baby was born was a night like no other – a holy night.
Even so, Mary’s Child could not remain an infant comforted in His virgin mother’s arms. He could not remain a toddler brought back to Nazareth occasioned by his parents return from Egypt. He could not remain a youngster amazing the elders as He taught in the Temple courts. He could not remain the obedient and talented stepson learning the carpenter’s trade as an apprentice to His mother’s husband. He would all too soon become a man, and serve in a public ministry as brief and as bright as the star which had guided the Magi to Bethlehem.
It was meant to be that way. He was never just a baby, never just a toddler, never just a youngster, never just a stepson. He was those things to be sure, but as He was, He was also the Wonderful Counselor – He was the Mighty God – He was the Eternal Father – He was the Prince of Peace – He was God with us. In addition, something more about Him ought to be recognized. He was the very first Person ever to spend Christmas away from home.
On that first Christmas, the Savior of the world had condescended to men of low estate. He had left the splendor of heaven, He had sat aside His royal rights, He had incarnated as a human being in order to become the supreme and ultimate Sacrifice for the sin of the world.
The most alien Person on the planet that first Christmas Day was Jesus himself. He was away from His Heavenly Father and the Holy Spirit, away from His heavenly family. On that night, He was among those who could not understand the true meaning of His coming – not even the woman chosen as His birth mother.
Certainly, she and Joseph knew from the angel that this Child was holy. The shepherds confirm it, and later certain Magi reinforced it. Even so, no human being living on earth that first Christmas Day could possibly have imagined that for all of human history, the Baby of Bethlehem was to be the only perfect human being who ever inhabited the planet.
The Christ Child was in reality the Incarnation of the Creator. Skeptics do not accept it, and even believers do not understand fully. What mortal can claim to understand the Incarnation? I cannot, yet I believe it, and trust my eternal life to it. There is mystery here that demands faith – not faith contingent upon the unthinkable – only the immeasurable.
Why God became man is such a profound mystery, yet believable. Love we can understand, though imperfectly. “For God so loved the world.” This we dimly understand, but even dimly, it fills our understanding with wonder and awe. Through the agency of God’s infinite love, the Incarnation became reality, and God dwelt among us in order to redeem us.
From the moment that Mary became the bearer of the Incarnation until the moment of Christ’s ascension back to heaven, the Son of God would spend thirty-three Christmases away from home. Each one would bring Him a step closer to our eternal redemption, and the culmination of a plan to make it possible for “whosoever will” to never truly spend another Christmas away from home.
It would be a long way from the cradle to the cross, longer than thirty-three years of earth life could possibly reflect. The journey that Jesus would make from Bethlehem to Calvary would span the pages of history into the ages of the future. The life and times of Jesus Christ would fulfill nearly four thousand years of prophecy, and light the way to eternity.
During the three and a half years of His public ministry, Jesus would live in increasing isolation until finally, at the cross; He would suffer isolation infinitely greater than his rejection by the religious leaders of His day, and the abandonment by His disciples. At the cross, He would experience the full weight of the sin of the world, and the total penalty of it under the just judgment of a Holy God who, even for His only begotten Son, could not suffer sin to go unpunished. “He who knew no sin became sin for us.”.
We know that we cannot spend all of the coming Christmases that will ever be in the comfort of our earthly home, and with the ones we love so dearly today. We do not like to think about it, and like even less to talk about it amongst ourselves, but we do know that it is appointed unto us once to die. Common sense tells us that at some Christmas future we will be missing from the family gathering, and those who remain will speak of us in the past tense.
As we mature, it becomes increasingly clear that being home is being with those with whom we belong. Yes, we may have a sentimental attachment to a particular place, and even wistfully refer to it as “home” even though we have not lived there for a very long time, and have no plans to return. Yet, real home is wherever we are with the ones dearest to us.
At the Incarnation, Christ left heaven where He was among those who knew him as the Second Person of the Godhead. He lived with them in a harmony of perfect love. This He left to live among those who did not know Him, and for thirty-three and a half years He was away from home.
Prior to His leaving to return to the Father and home, He made His disciples a remarkable promise, and in so doing, extended His promise to everyone who would follow Him by faith. In the Gospel of John He told them:
“Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:1-4 NKJV).
Being home is being with our loved ones. Heaven is the true home of the Christian, because heaven is where Jesus is. It should also be where our loved ones can find us after we have left this earthly life. The Good News is the ultimate promise of the Incarnation…the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. When Jesus said, “that where I am, there you may be also,” He was inviting us home for Christmas…forever.
None one needs to really be alone, or away from home at Christmas; whosoever will may come home (Revelation 22:17). The home place has already been prepared for the greatest Christmas celebration in the history of the universe. Day by day, the family is gathering, and some day, when the last member has entered the Father’s house, we shall all sit down to a great banquet that the Book of Revelation refers to as the “Wedding Supper of the Lamb,” and we shall all be home for Christmas – forever.
Dennis D. Frey, M.Div., Th.D., President
Master’s International University of Divinity