December 22, 2005

I'll Be Home for Christmas

1550 page27 cap?ll Be Home for Christmas.?  ?I?ll Have a Blue Christmas Without You.? ?Home for the Holidays.? The music seeps into our consciousness unbidden, from radio and elevator and concert hall, its message crystal clear: how very sad not to be home for Christmas.

I well remember my first Christmas away from home, a few years after I?d left college. I was now grown up (theoretically) and working in a residence hall of 550 young women.

Residence hall students? homes vary in both emotional and geographic distance. Many international students stay on through the holidays, as travel costs are prohibitive and visas tricky. Other students stay as a matter of economic necessity, filling the December days with as many hours of employment as they can toward the expenses of the semester to come. Still others simply can?t afford the trip emotionally: they?d rather stay where they are and brave the possible loneliness than risk the probable encounter with a painful past.

In a typical year several dozen young women remain in-house, and because students stay, deans stay. Someone is on duty during every holiday, and that particular year, that someone was me.

1550 page27As I listened to their stories and their reasons for staying, I felt grateful that I had a family home to miss, and that I felt at home in so many other places: the homes of my siblings, the homes of my friends, and my own home. That, in turn, reminded me to be thankful that I had an apartment in which to spend the holiday, surrounded with all that spoke to me of warmth and comfort. For some residents, a 12' x 12' room had been their domicile for barely two months: home felt like somewhere else entirely.

As every dean had lovingly done before me, I determined that as long as I was there, I might as well pour myself out--make a difference in the lives around me. Our Christmas breakfast, gift stockings, video nights, and impromptu chatting sessions cheered my heart, too.

Many years have now passed, 25 Christmases at Lamson Hall. I?ve been with my family for some of those celebrations, away from them for most. But whether or not I?ve been ?home? for Christmas, homespun truths have emerged with the passing of time.

Like my students, Mary and Joseph weren?t home for Christmas.

? In that first-ever Christmas season, they had left all that was comfortable and dear.

? They too had journeyed far away from home, to an unfamiliar place filled to capacity with other travelers. Though loosely related by church affiliation and shared ancestry, those fellow travelers were still strangers.

? They wound up in a rented room that felt nothing like home and was unlike anything they had imagined.

? They were facing never-before-encountered challenges. The friends and family on whom they had counted for support were miles and miles away.

? Yet home became wherever Jesus was, and He made all the difference.

? How could a smelly cattle stall and then a rented space in a strange country be home? Because Jesus was there.

? How can a dorm room or a lonely apartment be home? Because Jesus is there.

? What if we?re not going ?home for the holidays? because there is no home to go to, or money is tight, or circumstances forbid being with those we love? How can I possibly expect any joy or blessing this season? Because Jesus is there.

Jesus is there.

Wherever Christmas finds you this holiday season, may you find yourself at home with Jesus.

Valerie Phillips is associate director of the women?s residence hall at Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Michigan, where she has ministered to collegiate women for 25 years.