I have a friend from the old days in Brooklyn who has since left the City as part of a successful academic career. He’s one of the fortunate ones—he’s been invited to teach at wonderful places and has done well at each one. Like many displaced New Yorkers, he grouses about the lack of “decent” bagels anywhere west of the Hudson and doesn’t always know what to make of the instinctive politeness he routinely encounters in other parts of the country, but overall, he has been happy with his life and at home in the tidy, cultural communities where he’s been invited to live.
But every year at Christmas, he turns in his first semester grades, throws a duffel bag of laundry into the backseat of his now-legendary, almost “classic” Mercury Sable, and points the car back home. And happy as he is, successful as he is, he drives home to Brooklyn with the urgency of a diver trying to rise to the surface before his air runs out.
“God, I need New York,” he posted on Facebook a few days ago. “Won’t be long now.”
I’ve never asked him, but I’m guessing this goes deeper than the bit about the decent bagel. For many New Yorkers, it’s about the energy of the place—the feel of the streets, the little, familiar interactions between strangers, the sensory overload—these are all part of the unique rhythms of the City, and if they are part of your own rhythms, then there really is no other place where they seem to come together in just the right way.
Maybe that’s true of home for each of us, no matter where our home happens to be.
But what I’m especially thinking about these days is that urgency—that need for a place.
There is a similar kind of longing at the heart of the Christmas story.
It’s not longing for a place, per se, unless maybe it’s for a place that hasn’t quite existed, yet. Nevertheless, that sense of needing to be elsewhere is alive in the gospels. Both Matthew and Luke set the stage for the arrival of Jesus in a world that needs to be different than it is. And in their own ways, all of the characters, be they shepherds, magi, or member of the holy family, know what it is to have the rhythms of the heart feel out of kilter with the rhythms of the world.
The Christmas story begins with a world that needs to change: a world that both needs God and cannot seem to find God. The coming of Jesus is about God’s wanting to help us find our way at last, and to make a world where the rhythms of the heart feel truly at home.
That’s why we need this story all over again, each and every year. For all the great moments we know throughout the living of our days, there is still that sense that things are not as they were meant to be, and that we are not as we are meant to be. We are still searching for the place where everyone belongs, where all possibilities come together.
That’s why we need Christmas. Christmas names our hope for such a place, and God’s promise that in the fullness of time, He will lead us there.
Christmas is how we begin to imagine what such a place will be like.
So grab your duffel bag and get ready to hit the road. It won’t be long now.
See you in church,