A time when the song meant more to me than any other were the years I was studying far away from my home in Wisconsin at the seminary in Dallas. In those first years away from family and friends as well as the beautiful rolling hills and lakes dotting the countryside of Wisconsin I had managed the homesickness pretty well. But the time when the longing became most intense was in those closing days of the fall semester when studies reached a new anxiety producing intensity and Christmas loomed on the horizon.
As I made the long trek by road back home that song would rise from within me and emerge from my mouth with great gusto as I sang along with Bing or did a solo rendition. What joy to finally arrive after 20 hours or more on the road and to be embraced by my parents and brothers and sisters, grandparents and friends! What a wonderful sense of belonging to be at that place which carried the beautiful name, 'home'!
Now, these many years later, the song still moves me whenever I hear or sing it, but the meaning of home has changed. The home in which I grew up was sold long ago. In fact it was torn down to make space for an apartment complex. My mother has died. I love to visit my six siblings who still live in Wisconsin, but clearly Wisconsin is no longer my home. I lived in Dallas for more than 40 years, but in many different parishes as is common in the life of a priest. It is nice to visit relatives and friends there, but Dallas is not my home.
In the four years I have lived in El Paso I have truly come to love this unique and special place. I have truly felt welcomed here and very much at home. And yet...I hope you will take no offense in me saying El Paso is not my home.
What I have begun to understand is that no place on earth is truly the home for which my heart longs. And that is as it should be. In one of the options for the readings of Christmas morning we may choose from the Gospel of John, Chapter 1, where John tells us according to one translation, "The Word was made flesh and made his 'home' among us...". A more accurate term than the word home, I am told by the scholars, is that he set up his 'tent' among us.
Jesus was not seeking a lasting home when he was born among us in a stable and laid in a feeding trough called a manger. The whole point of a tent is that it can be moved. Jesus was born at Christmas so that he could guide and accompany us to the home that is at the heart of our deepest longings--the place where we all belong, where all God's holy family gather for a never-ending feast. Any place we might build on earth, no matter how comfortable it may seem, is only a tent, a temporary dwelling which shelters us until that lasting home can be ours.
This year when I sing, "I'll Be Home for Christmas" with gusto and joy I will have in mind my one true home in heaven.
Have a very merry and blessed Christmas!