‘Where does everyone go at Christmas?’ I asked, and all the African kids yelled ‘Home!’ and that’s how it started, a brief word shared last night from the front of our own home where a few dozen carollers, mostly Ugandans, gathered.
It was our annual contribution to Christmas things here at the university that we’ve called home for so many years now. We open up our own home for others to come and sing and eat and have a Christmas time, the sort of time you can have in the heart of Africa as much as some snowy front porch on the other side of the word.
And this is it. So many people do go home at Christmas, wherever home may be, even if home for the moment is just a soup kitchen where other people without much of anything meet for all sorts of warmth.
The first Christmas shows that God did it the other way around as he so often does, that is he left his home – a place we’ll assume is the sort of home that goes past our wildest imagination – to go on the road, on a journey, on a quest in pursuit of the human heart.
He called that First Family of Christmas on the road too, first to Bethlehem for the Roman census and not much later from Bethlehem to Africa, where Mary and Joseph and The Child ran from the raging of a mad king, now even further from the original place they started from, that is the comfort of their village home.
Then again, that home in little Nazareth wasn’t very comfortable at the time either. As soon as the young Mary – she was likely barely a teen — heard the visiting angel tell her “Don’t be afraid!” (along with the news that, by the way, ‘You — yes I know you’re a virgin — will bear God’s son’) you can imagine she was, in fact, in one way or another, afraid.
You can bet that she knew exactly what was coming – the doubts and questions from Joseph and her family, the hot shame, the desire to just get far away from the rest of that suspicious community and away from the stones at least some of this community’s members would have picked up.
Yet she said humbly and simply ‘Let it be to me as you have said.’ It’s a remarkable response left as an example to us, even as God’s road trip to our dirty little ball of a planet is an example.
The African kids listening last night, even the young ones, looked up and around in the night air and seemed to get most of it, at least at the level that kids do get these things, more in their heart than anywhere, just where it’s needed.
They listened to my wife play the flute, and they watched my own kids play and sing various entertaining pieces, and at the end it was all of the kids, the entire gaggle, who got up to the front and sang together, all of it a memory which will get bigger in time.
All this after the old carols, the ancient stories, sung imperfectly, of course, because this is the only way to sing.
Then everyone came into our home to eat their fill and check out whatever else they could, not the least of which was the brightly-lit Christmas tree.
And finally they left and we cleaned up and our kids went down for the night, followed by Mom and Dad, this annual night that gives satisfaction like few other nights of the year can.