Christmas movies are my jam. Favorites include It’s a Wonderful Life, Family Man, Miracle on 34th Street, A Christmas Carol, Prancer . . . all of which capture something which is essential to the Christmas story. Namely the numinous supernatural reality that shimmers just out of our sight, just beyond our consciousness, until that moment when a glimpse is given. Perhaps the main character is in desperation, or perhaps the character’s longing is recognized and fulfilled. Or perhaps the main character just needs a shocking infusion of terror and grace to shake life onto a better track.
This past weekend I was watching the beautifully animated and true-to-literature recent version of A Christmas Carol (Jim Carrey, Colin Firth). There is a scene on Christmas Eve when Scrooge leans out the window and sees the air filled with spirits. The holiday seems to bring the visible and invisible worlds to a common threshold where communication becomes possible, and epiphanies occur.
Which, if you think of it, fits into the story. Zecharias and Mary receive visits from the angel Gabriel, Joseph receives instructions in dreams, the Magi interpret signs in the sky, the shepherds see a sudden infusion of light and glory. After a long silence, God is speaking.
And for most of those characters, the revelations come in the mundane routine of daily life, unexpected, unsought.
More often than not, home becomes the site where spiritual otherliness pierces concrete ordinariness. I imagine Mary with her hands floured to the elbows, or sunk into a washtub. I imagine Joseph on a pallet covered with a woven blanket after a hard day’s work. I imagine the shepherds around the embers of a campfire, at one of their regular field shelters. Moments which are as familiar to them as a thousand days of life before, only on this thousand-and-first there is a ripple in the molecules of air, a tremor in the energy waves of heat and light, and for the first time in their lives they are aware of a Heavenly realm which coexists.
And after the revelations, the briefest of glimpses, there are hours and years of laundry and sheep. There are doors and drains and hearths, mending and sweeping and cooking to be done. There are journeys and dramas, but even for Jesus the majority of life still happens at home. Which is why the good news has to matter here, or nowhere. The transformations in the best movies lead to refreshed love for the core people in our hearts. The Kingdom images, again and again, involve feasts and children and vines and safety. Miracle on 34th street ends in a new home, a new family. Home is the context of the holiness and wonder that God’s presence brings, the Garden restored, the city rebuilt, the temple of His light.
I believe we get that right much of the time with our Christmas traditions of meals and family. But there is a danger here too. Because if home is the place we meet God, it will also be the place we face our greatest challenges. The Enemy knows the potential of home to reflect glory. So from Cain and Abel on, we see home corrupted and frayed. We see people of faith in exile, longing, excluded, unsettled. We see friction between sisters, jealousy between brothers, alienation between parents and children. We see unfaithfulness. We see murder. And that’s just in the Bible, let alone the world.
So we hold the paradox of home: the potential to re-create a taste of the divine wholeness of shalom, with the battle against our own selfishness and despair.
And here is the hope: Emmanuel, God with us. Our homes may be shining rather dimly at the moment. We may carry heavy hearts as we care for a family member crumbling from illness or dementia, as we watch a kid struggle, as we worry about the future. But as we think about what our homes may hold in the next 48 holiday ours, or the next 48 years of life, let us remember that God will be there. In the beauty of a perfectly wrapped gift or the messiness of a broken heart, God has chosen to dwell with humankind. The unseen world meets our experience in space and time. We are not alone. This is the hope of Advent, the truth of Christmas, the barely-glimpsed reality with power to heal our fragmented interactions into . . . home, a holy rest.