No Place Like Home
where I want to be
But I guess I’m already there
I come home—she lifted up her wings
I guess that this must be the place
Byrne, “Naďve Melody”
I have been on sabbatical, which is a really great way to
spend your time. I didn’t leave the area, but in a very real
way I voyaged far from my usual life. I slept late, cooked
a lot and lost a lot of chess games to my daughter. By far
the most important part of the sabbatical were the hours of
each day spent entirely alone in a sunlit room with only my
laptop to keep me company. Short of the sheer pleasures of
the flesh, nothing has ever felt so good.
So when I told people I had planned to go back to work right
before Christmas they were astonished. Why hadn’t I ended
my sabbatical after the new year? Why would a minister want
to return to the parish during one of the busiest times of
The answer is simple—I want to be home for Christmas.
I couldn’t imagine Christmas without the people of Grace Lutheran
Church. Oh, it was great to take a break from people—I’m probably
a genuinely latent hermit—but when I think of how I want to
spend Christmas Eve, I know that this is what I want:
JoAnn will bring the chocolate mousse in elegant dessert glasses.
She tries different recipes different years. But she always
puts raspberries atop the chocolate. She knows of my unreasonable
love of raspberries. If I were Buddhist I’d have to practice
detachment. If I were Roman Catholic I might have to give
them up for Lent. If I were Muslim I wouldn’t even be getting
ready to lead worship on Christmas Eve, so it’s a moot point.
We have put up the trees, one on each side of the altar. We
are not stingy with our evergreens. We have decorated the
sanctuary with so many candles that Jack, the fireman, must
have long ago gotten a special dispensation from the fire
marshal. Shawn puts the lights on the trees and Ron has followed
his personal tradition of hiding a little blue light bulb
somewhere among all of the branches. Ellen unpacks the ornaments
and the little kids bounce up and down around her, wanting
to help hang them. Mike has vacuumed up the carpet of fallen
We have had our annual Swedish smorgasbord with the traditional
St. Lucy procession—Mary has dressed all the young girls in
white robes with red ribbons at their waists. They walk slowly,
carefully holding candles whose soft glow both shadows and
lights their faces. And then, as Cynthia or Rachel sings “Santa
Lucia,” comes St. Lucy herself, the oldest girl, wearing a
crown of flames.
We have had the annual children’s Christmas play which the
kids write and direct—Paul or Madeleine or Chelsea or Emma
or Dan—good writers, all of them. All the usual suspects are
there—Mary and Joseph, the donkey and the baby, the angels,
the shepherds, the wise men and the animals, but the play
itself is a comedy. Think Spamalot Goes To Bethlehem.
Last year the angel Gabriel wore blue sunglasses. Dude.
We have sent plates of cookies home to shut-ins, sung carols,
had a run of parties. We like parties.
Soon it will be Christmas Eve and I will come over to the
church alone in the early darkness where the silence is almost
as palpable as velvet.
Soon the choir members and their families will arrive to rehearse
their anthems. Then more and more people will keep trickling
in until the church is nearly full—not like most Sundays.
Out-of-town relatives, family and friends and the C-and-E-ers
(people whose religion only permits them to come to church
on Christmas Eve and Easter) swell the ranks. The sanctuary
is noisy, people are excited.
It will be hectic in my office. People will pop in and out
with questions about the service or to leave off plates of
cookies, tins of nuts, bottles of wine, cards. JoAnn will
bring the mousse and we will sample some, taking care not
to get chocolate on our white robes.
Finally, we will be ready. The choir and the worship leaders
will gather at the entrance to the church. Shawn will finish
playing a masterly prelude.
Then everybody will rise and we will begin.
We are celebrating another Christmas, one out of the finite
number we will be alive to see. I look out at the congregation.
For some there may only be a handful of Christmases left to
them. For others there are scores and scores of Christmases
still to come.
And each year we make the same ritual pilgrimage to this sanctuary
full of green branches and glowing lights. Each year we sing
the same carols that promise the ineffable and abiding presence
of God. We sing about a baby who was born to die, as we have
each been born and will, unfailingly, die. In a way, that
is the whole event: that this baby some boldly call God has
begun the same journey toward death as we are on.
But tonight, now, we are here and nowhere else. We have left
our houses and brought our families and our friends so that,
gathered together for an hour or two, we will find in each
other what it means to come home.