But wait a minute - maybe it's beautiful to talk about how Christmas is a homecoming, for Joseph and for Jesus and for us, but isn't that just a little cruel in a year like this one, a year in which so many of us cannot go home for Christmas?
This is a year that we know is so much unlike other years. Stockings will be hung by the chimney with care, filled, and then taken down and the contents shipped to their respective recipients. Presents will be delicately wrapped, photographed under the tree, and then dropped off on porches with a wave through the window. Cookies will be baked with love, but the smells will be trapped in festive containers rather than wafting through shared spaces. We all want to go home for Christmas, but this year? This year, 'home' just isn't the same.
Yet that, too, is a part of this Christmas story. That, too, is part of the story of this Christ.
Because as much as this little inn in Bethlehem was a homecoming, it also...wasn't. Joseph was going home to a place that knew him, a place that he grew up in. It was a place where he should have had a home, where he should have been welcomed warmly. Especially given his present circumstances - he was a young man, freshly engaged, with a lovely young wife-to-be in tow. She was pregnant, yes, and what a disgrace that was, but still, this young man was one of their own. There should have been a place for him.
We know, though, that there was no place for Joseph. There was no rejoicing at his return. There was no excitement about his engagement, no buzz (at least, no positive buzz) about his baby. When there was no room at the inn, no friends came out of their homes to offer him a room at their place. No one brought bread or oil or even a little water for him. There was no hospitality in Bethlehem for Joseph. There was no 'home' in his hometown.
Nor should we lose sight of the fact that although Jesus has a home here with us, this is not home for Him, either. Jesus left the comforts of Heaven, the fellowship of the Father to come and to be here with us. We know that He constantly carries His God-nature with Him, but there's something about being a stranger in a strange land, especially knowing all that is coming for Him here. And it started that night, that lonely night in a stable. That first night when He cried out, and the world...seemed to stay silent. When He wailed the pains of birth from His lungs and...nothing. No one seemed to hear. Where Jesus, who was coming home to us, laid His head on borrowed hay that the animals had no choice but to give Him, that was taken from them for a little manger in a drafty barn.
It just doesn't feel like 'home,' does it?
And that's why, no, it's not cruel to talk about a homecoming this Christmas, on a Christmas when so many of us simply can't go home. Because as much as they wanted to, as much as they tried, as much as they should have been right there in the midst of love, neither Joseph nor Jesus was truly home, either. Neither had the comfort that night of the place that we find ourselves longing for in our own lives this year. Christmas was a homecoming and at the same time, so far from it. O little town of Bethlehem, yet somehow, still, not quite home.
Perhaps, then, this Christmas - this two thousandth and something Christmas - is more like that first one than we even realized.