In the Christmas Special of BBC’s Call the Midwife, Barbara (one of the midwives) is sad because she cannot go home for Christmas and must stay at Nonnatus House. Sister Monica Joan is outraged, saying that Christmas is a time of “returning to one’s roots” as Joseph and Mary did. She reminds us that because of the census, they had to return to their hometown to register.
Luke 2:1-3 (NIV) “In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register.”
And it got me thinking about all the Christmases I’ve spent travelling.
Growing up, Christmas wasn’t Christmas for me unless I went to Virginia. I’m not from Virginia, but a lot of my relatives lived there. Until I visited Grandma and Grandpa and their relatives, it didn’t feel like Christmas. Maybe it was the slowing down, taking time out – a whole day! – to travel, play games and ‘spin a yarn’ or two? Maybe it was the late ride home, listening to country Christmas songs on the radio and looking at peoples’ Christmas lights twinkling in the dark like stars? Maybe it was the snow which rarely appeared in my hometown, but occasionally we got glimpses of at Grandma’s? Something about that day – that journey – made Christmas all the more real.
Nowadays, if I get to return to my roots, it’s by plane not car, and it’s the everyday lights that line the roads that I see from the plane’s window, rather than the Christmas lights lining the interstate. But the feeling is the same. Call the Midwife is right; there is something about the journey to our roots that is an important part of Christmas.
But it isn’t just about the roots of my family or who I am as a person. Christmas is also about returning to our spiritual roots. God entered into our world as a baby, who was called Jesus – Yeshua, YHWH saves. They called him – Immanuel “God with us”. We sing “O Come, o come Immanuel”, praying God will live with us, be an important part of our lives.
At Christmas we celebrate how God journeyed ever closer to us becoming one of us, so we could better get to know Him. We were made in God’s image (Genesis 1:27), with the idea that when people looked at us they would see God. That didn’t work out as well as God would have liked, I gather, so He journeyed to us, showing us – in Jesus – what this divine image was supposed to look like in human form. The caring, the healing, the compassion, the emphasis on talking with God (aka prayer and relationship), the looking after the poor and vulnerable people in the community, the sense of being set apart for God’s enjoyment and friendship.
In Jesus, God was bringing us back to our roots – that close relationship with God that people were always meant to have. That loving bond that we forgot somehow when people got kicked out of the garden for misbehaving. All the yarns spun since, we’ve made quite a mess at times, or so we think. But God comes – not just telling a tale, but God lives His story – His story of His Son, of His love for us.
With each step on earth, God called us home, calling us back to Him.