During the Covid pandemic, I sat in church masked up and several spaces removed from fellow worshippers. It was the season of Advent, thus nearing the end of a very difficult year for us all. As usual, the preacher had given much reflection to how he would lead us out of a dark year and into one full of hope. He stated that Advent was not just a point of time on the liturgical calendar, but in fact, we could dedicate this entire upcoming year as our season of Advent, in a pregnant, expectant sort of anticipation of renewal.
I have been blessed in my life to be surrounded by people I love and who I know love me. When I was younger, I took such things for granted. Recent losses have humbled me enough to know better—to practice intentional gratitude on a daily basis. These same losses also left me with a profound sense of homelessness and launched a yearlong interior examination of where is my “home”.
In The Longing for Home, Frederick Buechner shares a story from one of his mentors, George Buttrick.
“[Buttrick asks] ‘Are you going home for Christmas?’—and asked it in some sort of way that brought tears to my eyes and made it almost unnecessary for him to move on to his answer to the question, which was that home, finally, is the manger in Bethlehem, the place where at midnight even the oxen kneel.”
“…home, finally, is the manger in Bethlehem, the place where at midnight even the oxen kneel.”
This reading immediately pricked something buried deep inside me, but I was clueless as to what it was. Of course, never having been to Bethlehem much less regularly living with oxen, I began my search within by asking myself, Where is my Bethlehem? and What are the manger and oxen for me?
In our culture where farms and livestock are most often managed by Big Brother and very far removed from our daily lives or tangible application, it’s easy for us to romanticize the whole concept of oxen and mangers, much less an eight-month pregnant woman riding to what we now consider a holy city, Bethlehem. However, at the time of the birth of Jesus, Bethlehem was not exactly a desirable destination.
It was, rather, the faraway place where Joseph and Mary had to journey so that they might be counted, take personal responsibility for their lives, and then be taxed for it—pay a price for what they had made of their lives—specifically in the place in which Joseph had been born.
In this line of thinking, part of the season of Advent includes me taking responsibility for my life, and being willing to be “taxed” for it. There will be certain costs, sacrifices, which I will be asked to make. I’ve heard it said that our joy is in direct proportion to how much we’re willing to suffer. This includes being a compassionate witness to the suffering of all creation, not just our personal experience of it.
I’m still in the cooker, asking myself, “Where is my Bethlehem, my ‘home?’”.
I would love to hear your reflections and experiences of searching for your true home, beyond a physical address.With love,
Love, your sister along the journey,