I have a penchant for depressing Christmas music, I admit it. As the winter closes her dark wings over us, my husband and I like to turn off all the lights, ignite the (admittedly, depressingly fake) fire and listen to Christmas music that makes us ache. The tree twinkles, the house creaks in the wind, and we sit in semi-darkness, feeling the edges of ourselves.
We’re not masochists, I promise.
And I don’t think we’re alone.
There’s something about this season filled with thanksgiving and tinsel and joy and song that feels a little like homesickness to me. It’s not strident, it’s not brash, but the undercurrent of the holidays tugs at us with its longings for something more. Something we struggle to name, something about hope and about disappointment, something about desire and about loneliness, something, I would hazard a guess, about where Home really is.
I’ve had the familiar tune, “I’ll Be Home For Christmas,” wending its way through my thoughts and emotions since, oh, probably late September. It appeared as a snatch of a song, and it has been persistently presence—you can count on me—almost every day in some way—there’ll be snow and mistletoe—shape or form.
It takes me a while to catch on, sometimes, and that’s why God winds melodies into my story to suggest, to invite, to point me in the right direction. It happened when I first came to know Him with a hymn I’d learned during choir practice, and this year, it happened again with my Christmas earworm.
If you’d told me in August that I’d feel compelled (with joy, even) to offer a 6-week interactive online journey and retreat through Advent, Christmas and Epiphany, I’d have laughed and called you crazy. This holiday season is busy, after all. There are so many things to juggle, so much pressure from consumer culture shot through with a desire to redeem the time, to find the sacred in all this mundane, to listen with my heart’s ear to the story of Christ in the world, Emmanuel, God with us.
I’ll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams.
The plaintive last line of the song called me back to myself and to what, I suspect, is going on in more than a few of us. I’d rather bury the ache with busy-ness than face it head on. The hope, the desire, the longing for more. I’d rather not risk the homesickness getting deeper, wider in me, instead I’ll cram my calendar full so I can’t feel any of the empty. I’d rather try to dress it up with decorations than press into it, let it bloom into something that might, just might, lead me closer to that which I’m longing for.
But what if the Christian calendar actually invites us to less, not more? What if coming home isn’t about the destination (the perfect turkey, the Martha Stewart tree, the ideal present wrapped flawless for everyone) but about the journey?
Here, I’m back to the depressing Christmas songs, not because they are dark, but because they acknowledge the complexity of this time of year. It’s no coincidence that the longest night of the year occurs right before Christmas itself, that within the rhythm of the seasons there’s an acknowledgement that things come with a cost, that they aren’t as they should be.
And there are treasures of darkness to be found, too (Is. 45:3, NKJV). There is something to dwelling in the hidden places in this season of flash and fanfare, letting the desire for more rise through us as we wait for the light to increase. There is something to choosing silence while the world turns up the Christmas carols, something to finding solitude when the holiday-party-merry-go-round starts spinning.
So, instead of running from Bing Crosby’s siren call, I pressed in, listening. What I heard was the call of the One who loves us most, the incarnational hope of the One who became small enough to hold. Could I trust God’s voice? Could I lean into a call and a community this Advent, finding and forming a journey together into complexity of what it means to come home?
My heart said yes, as it had been saying yes since the first strains of the song sang through it.
And that’s how Coming Home: An Online Journey Into Advent, Christmas and Epiphany was born.
It’s a risk, I know, one bigger than I’ve offered to take with this crazy community of seekers, dreamers, lovers and learners before. It seems so much larger than me, and that’s probably the way it should stay, because I can’t control God any more than I can control the winter wind. I’m excited and terrified and hopeful and full of longing. I’m wondering and nervous and brimming with the sense that the Wild One is up to something gloriously good.
“It is as hard to explain how this sunlit land was different from the old Narnia as it would be to tell you how the fruits of that country taste. Perhaps you will get some idea of it if you think like this. You may have been in a room in which there was a window that looked out on a lovely bay of the sea or a green valley that wound away among mountains. And in the wall of that room opposite to the window there may have been a looking-glass. And as you turned away from the window you suddenly caught sight of that sea or that valley, all over again, in the looking glass. And the sea in the mirror, or the valley in the mirror, were in one sense just the same as the real ones: yet at the same time they were somehow different—deeper, more wonderful, more like places in a story: in a story you have never heard but very much want to know. The difference between the old Narnia and the new Narnia was like that. The new one was a deeper country: every rock and flower and blade of grass looked as if it meant more.” ― C.S. Lewis, The Chronicles of Narnia
I’m stepping into another first for this space, today—a synchroblog.
My friend, Esther Emery, has started us off with this beautiful post on her feelings about the Christmas season.
So, here’s my invitation. Below you’ll find some blog prompts on the holiday season and what it feels like to be starting it down right now. Is it scary? Hopeful? Painful? Exciting?
Write about it.
Then, at the end of your post, use the image and link below to link back to the Coming Home registration page (and there’s a $25 discount on registration until this Friday, November 15).
Once you’ve done that, add your post to the synchroblog on or before November 17.
And because I’m so grateful for your support and words, I’m going to be giving away a copy of one of my favorite Advent resources, God With Us: Rediscovering the Meaning of Christmas, to one of the bloggers who links up before Sunday:
I’ll use a random number generator to pick the winner, and announce it here on this post and on the Anam Cara Facebook community on Monday, November 18.
So, have at it. And thanks for being on the journey together.
Does Christmas make you homesick for something more? Maybe something you’ve never had?
Is there something about the spiritual “home” that you’ve lived in that makes you feel sick (as in sick-of-home) and longing for something more?
Has the ancient church intrigued you? Is there something about the ancient practices and places that are drawing you right now?
Do the holidays already make you feel “too busy”? Have you ever felt yourself feeling like you’re too busy for the deeper things of Christmas, but can’t add one more thing to your to-do list? What would fulfill that for you?
Have you ever felt empty after Christmas, longing for more? What does the idea that Christmas starts (not ends) with the 25th and runs to Epiphany do in your heart?
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A Big Thank You!
Thank you SO much to all who participated in the synchroblog! It was my first, and it was great to read all of your entries. Wonderful words, all.