Making Himself at Home

Fr. David May

Will you be home for Christmas this year? Are you travelling great distances to get there? Or are you already living at home, and others are going to be joining you there?

Many people experience a great longing to be at home with family at Christmas. This is true even if there is not much faith tradition left in that family. “Happy holidays!” we say, or at least those who are not Christians may say this, and we followers of Jesus might also say it so as not to offend people of other faith or non-faith traditions.

At least in Christian circles we wish one another, “Merry Christmas!” We do so because Christ has taken our flesh upon himself and joined us to make his home with us here and now and forever.

It’s quite a world for God to be taking up residence in at this time in human history. It feels like the world is tilting on the edge of a precipice and could go sliding down into the abyss at any time. Many people feel this way. Who knows, we may already be on our way down.

I will not list the litany of troubles that one could refer to in order to illustrate this. But only to say that it is a point well taken, and there is much to pray for on every front, from within the Church itself to the general state of the world today, and everything in between.

So much for an extremely generalized picture of the state of things in the world and individual lives at this Christmas of 2022!

In the face of all that, perhaps in spite of all that, people will be heading home for the holidays that originate with the feast of Christmas.

At Madonna House we do not travel to our family homes for Christmas, except rarely. For us our usual home is Madonna House itself, and we do everything we can to make this time of the year one that we celebrate in a manner that resembles in one aspect or another many of our experiences of Christmas growing up.

Above all, we wish and pray that Christ himself will be at home with us this year and every year, not only at Christmas.

We dress up the house in simple but beautiful decorations. We prepare festive foods. We make sure the skating rink, weather permitting, is in good shape for skating throughout the holidays. We celebrate beautiful liturgies to honour the birth of the Savior.

We repent of the ways we have not welcomed him either in prayer or in our brothers and sisters. There is quite a bit of purification that goes on in the community at the interior level during the living out of all the above.

And the goal of all this? So that Christ might be at home with us and we at home with him. There’s more than one might first think in learning to be at home with God in the flesh. For God in the flesh does not cease to be…God! And God, while he accepts and blesses our very human efforts to honor his coming, doesn’t seem to be that interested in staying at that level.

Rather, his idea of celebrating a real Christmas is to reach out to the poorest of the poor, and the neediest of the needy, and the loneliest of the lonely.

He’s always looking beyond our latest celebration, our newest decorations, the most beautiful traditions, the most delicious Christmas dinner to somewhere way beyond the quaint stable with a manger for his bed.

And so very often, for reasons that seem mysterious to us at the time, Christ leads us down some kind of a lonely path for Christmas. Or a tired one, or a sad one, or a burdened one. And so forth.

People are heard to say, “I was hoping for a really joyful and carefree Christmas this year, and instead I’m burdened with something, and I feel tired, with little hope that it will get better by the New Year.”

It’s at such a moment that Christ very well may be inviting us to celebrate his idea of the essence of Christmas. And what is this idea? Well, it seems to have something to do with the Lord burning with a desire to be light in the darkness, a light the darkness cannot overcome even though it still seeks to blot out hope and joy in the hearts of many.

And as for us who have tasted and seen that the Lord is good and are joyful at his coming, he wants us to share his light with those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.

This is where Christ seems to feel most at home—where people feel lost and as if there is no home either in this world or the next. It is there that he longs to be the Child the sight of whom brings spontaneous joy, hope, and peace.

It is here that he also wants to be the boy who grew up in a little village, in a simple working-class home, and helped his father with carpentry tasks. And so forth.

For the babe in the crib who was as helpless as any child at that age, is also the King of kings and Lord of lords.

He has come to make his home with us, and that means he will not tolerate the victory of darkness in our world, despite all the evidence to the contrary in the daily news and in the daily lives of so many. And he expects us to be, invites us to be as members of his body, part of this casting out of this darkness.

When I was a seminarian in Ottawa back in the late 1970s, one Christmas, before coming home to Combermere for the Christmas break, I elected to stay in the city at the seminary through Christmas Day so that I could accompany a little group from the city to assist the chaplain with Mass and Christmas dinner at the Ottawa-Carleton detention Centre on Innes Road.

The prison as usual was a somewhat grim setting for young men to be celebrating Christmas, but that year even the prison was trying to make the best of unhappy circumstances by offering a special dinner after we celebrated Mass.

My memory is that we celebrated Mass twice, once in minimum-security and the other one in maximum-security. The latter is not even in a room resembling a chapel but rather in a cell in which there is room to cram in a dozen people or so.

These guys, who were in for serious crimes, including acts of great violence, seemed not that interested in the religious ceremonies we were going through.

Rather they felt more inclined to visit with one another, because most of them were in solitary confinement while awaiting trial. They were hardened by life, it was clear to see.

I was sitting next to one of them, trying to look at the Mass and to concentrate on it when one of the men leaned over to me and said, “Thanks for coming here today. I know it doesn’t look like we care, but deep down we are grateful. It’s just that it’s so lonely here, and so it is a great relief just to be in a room where we can at least talk with another human being for a few moments.”

Of course, I’ve celebrated or attended many Christmas liturgies since then, but our service that day in a large prison cell under close surveillance by a vigilant guard stands out in my mind as the one where Christ perhaps felt most at home.

He was the Eucharist of the Father bringing light to those who dwelt in darkness and the shadow of death. I wonder where the Lord will feel most comfortable this year as we celebrate his coming with gratitude and great joy.