“I’ll be Home for Christmas”
These are the opening words of a famous song from the World War II period, made famous by the singer Bing Crosby. It is inspired by the situation of soldiers who are far away from home at Christmas time and expresses their desire and longing to be with their families. Christmas time is a special time for families to be together. Besides being a religious occasion for many people, it is primarily a family event for those who observe it. And so the song, sung from the point of view of a soldier away from home, ends on a melancholy note: “I’ll be home for Christmas… if only in my dreams!”
Over the years, most, if not all of our N.E.S.T. boarding students, used to go home for Christmas. Only those stayed behind who could not afford to travel to their home countries, but it was never the case that students couldn’t go home because home is no longer there or because it was too dangerous to go home. Almost all of our Syrian boarding students, who now constitute the majority of our student body, will not be going home for Christmas, either because their families have been displaced or because it is too unsafe to travel there and back. In many parts of Syria a civil, nay, an international war is raging. N.E.S.T. has become their home away from home.
Perhaps those who cannot go home for Christmas understand the gospel story and appropriate it better than the rest of us who are home, or who are able to go home, for Christmas. For the gospel Christmas story clearly tells us that Jesus was not home for Christmas! His own birth was not at home, but somewhere else, on the road, and it was not under normal and pleasant circumstances. Jesus was not born during a family vacation touring ancient Palestine! His family had not made reservations at any inn; in fact they were turned out because “there was no room for them in the inn.” And soon after his birth, they couldn’t return to their home village, but had to flee the home country altogether to seek asylum in Egypt, again, because the political authority – the state – sought to destroy the new born baby. Not only the first Christmas, but several other ones – we are not sure how many – were not celebrated at home.
The most important thing about Christmas is not to make sure that people get home for it; the point is not to be in some place for Christmas, so that we yearn, in a sentimental and wistful way, as the song does, “I’ll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams”. The point of Christmas is to be with Christ. He is our home, and home is where he is.
And where is Christ?
The gospel tells us very clearly where you are always sure to find Christ: for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me. (Mt. 25: 35-36)
You’ll be home for Christmas, if you are with the least of Christ’s brethren!
Dr. George Sabra, President
Middle East Studies Sabbatical in Beirut
The Near East School of Theology offers a special program for Pastors on Sabbatical who would like to become acquainted with and/or deepen their knowledge of the churches of the Middle East, Islam, and Christian-Muslim relations.
The 12-week program runs mid-September to mid-December at NEST’s campus in west Beirut. Structured courses in Contemporary Eastern Churches, Islamic Studies, and Christian-Muslim Interactions involve field visits, interviews and encounters with local Christian and Muslim leaders and organizations. Visits to ecumenical, inter-religious, educational, social and medical institutions of the churches of the Middle East are also offered. All courses are offered in English.
For more information, contact Dr. George Sabra, president, at firstname.lastname@example.org or +961-1-354194.