An old movie depiction of human loneliness might show a solitary man sitting alone in an empty bar saying, “Here it is Christmas and I’m all by myself!” Although Christians acknowledge Easter as the greater feast, Christmas arouses more feelings. And those feelings are ambivalent. They like Christmas and they don’t like it. They get too depressed, and anxious, yet they still try to prepare for it, celebrate it, and involve themselves in it. What is this Christmas phenomenon?
Most of the Christmas songs, rituals, and feelings floating around are about closeness, peacefulness, and being loved. However, one of the major feelings beneath the surface at Christmas is a desire to go home again, to be at home. We arrange to call home or actually be in our own home, but something else is present as well. It’s as if we remember some great home or paradise we once had, then lost, and forever yearn to return to again. Adults brush it off as sentimentality or memories of happy childhood days.
But isn’t it more than that, this yearning for home? Did we actually lose a home or paradise before the beginning of childhood? Were we somewhere wonderful before? How could we sense that there is more, and how could this sense be so deeply embedded in us, unless we experienced it? The people who wrote Genesis thought about this, and had an answer. Thousands of years ago they wrote about a garden, or paradise, from which human beings were expelled. They had the same feeling.
The deep powerful feelings of Christmas go back beyond toys and good times of childhood, for even in childhood we grew tired of our toys. It is our spiritual “inner home” we are looking for, our union with God. We lived there briefly as we started life. We were inwardly at home with the universe and life. Some spiritual writers call it a unitive state, a condition of union with the Creator and the created world. We felt a security, an at-oneness with everything. However, it was not a conscious unitive state. It was as if at the beginning we were at home but our fuzzy intellects didn’t know it. We just experienced it, and it preceded consciousness. Now we faintly remember it.
We did not stay in that paradise, that comfortable, wonderful home. God calls us to grow and reach an even greater home. God calls us to become a conscious, unique individual who relates to others and creation. God’s plan is not that we suck our thumbs and bask or vegetate in the comfort of early pleasantness. God calls us to a challenging endeavor superior to personal comfort—we are called to learn how to love. And love involves emptying ourselves for others rather than staying comfortable. So we leave the early home of self-centered comfort and begin relating to others, to parents, siblings, friends, spouse—and give ourselves to them.
But once we have experienced, even preconsciously, this satisfying union, this being at home with God and existence, we are never cured of it. No matter where we go in this world, or by whom we are loved, or how wealthy we become, we have a sense that there is still more. There seems to be another home. It keeps calling us to find it again. We are basically homesick people. Christmas reminds us of that fact.
If we don’t know what’s really going on within us, we can feel unduly depressed, disappointed, or shortchanged. We can easily think that everyone else is much happier than we are. But if we know what’s going on within us, our unfulfilled feelings can encourage us to keep on the road that will eventually bring us home. For the true antidote for our ambiguous feelings is the spiritual meaning of Christmas. God came here to tell us about the real home of paradise yet to come, and how to get there. God said the road home is found in loving one another. If we can only learn to love, then, in the words of T.S. Eliot: We shall not cease from exploration…And the end of all our exploring…Will be to arrive where we started…And know the place for the first time.