Some years ago, we were spending Christmas in the home of my wife’s parents. It was not a happy day in the household. Much had gone wrong during the preceding weeks, and a weight of sadness hung over the home. Yet, in the midst of all that, my mother-in-law kept her routine habit of asking people who would likely have no place to go at Christmas to share Christmas dinner with us.
That year she invited a man who was, by everyone’s estimate, somewhat of an odd person, quite eccentric in his demeanor. Not much was known about him at the church except that he came regularly, sat alone, and left without much conversation. He obviously lived alone and was quite a sorry-looking, solitary figure. He was our Christmas guest.
Because of other happenings in the house (not the least of which was that one daughter was taken to the hospital for the birth of her first child), everything was in confusion. All of our emotions were on edge. It fell upon me, in turn, to entertain this gentleman. I must confess that I did not appreciate it. Owing to a heavy life of travel year-round, I have jealously guarded my Christmases as time to be with my family. This was not going to be such a privilege, and I was not happy. As I sat in the living room, entertaining him while others were busy, I thought to myself, “This is going to go down as one of the most miserable Christmases of my life.”
But somehow we got through the evening. He evidently loved the meal, the fire crackling in the background, the snow outside, the Christmas carols playing, and a rather weighty theological discussion in which he and I were engaged—at his instigation, I might add. He was a very well-read man and, as I found out, loved to grapple with heavy theological themes. I do too, but frankly, not during an evening that has been set aside to enjoy life’s quiet moments.
At the end of the night when he bade us all good-bye, he reached out and took the hand of each of us, one by one, and said, “Thank you for the best Christmas of my life. I will never forget it.” He walked out into the dark, snowy night, back into his solitary existence.
My heart sank in self-indictment at those tender words of his. I had to draw on every nerve in my being to keep from breaking down with tears. Just a few short years later, relatively young, and therefore to our surprise, he passed away. I have relived that Christmas many times in my memory. That year God taught me a lesson. A home can reflect and distribute the love of Christ.
The first time I walked through the noisy streets of Bethlehem and endured its smells, I gained a whole new sense of the difference between our Christmas carols, glamorizing the sweetness of the “little town of Bethlehem,” and the harsh reality of God becoming flesh and making a home among us. G.K. Chesterton captures the wonder of such a thought:
A child in a foul stable,
Where the beasts feed and foam;
Only where he was homeless
Are you and I at home:
We have hands that fashion and heads that know,
But our hearts we lost—how long ago!
In a place no chart nor ship can show
Under the sky’s dome.
To an open house in the evening
Home shall men come,
To an older place than Eden
And a taller town than Rome.
To the end of the way of the wandering star,
To the things that cannot be and that are,
To the place where God was homeless
And all men are at home.(1)
Jesus’s earthly address changes our own. Christ comes this Advent, and shows us what it means to live.
Ravi Zacharias is founder and chairman of the board of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries.
(1) G.K. Chesterton, “The House of Christmas,” from Robert Knille, ed., As I Was Saying (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1985), 304-5.