***Here’s a poem I wrote for the season. No, it’s not autobiographical, and no, it’s not supposed to make any theological or cultural point. It’s mainly just supposed to make you cry as you sip strong eggnog. Any illustrators out there think they could make it into a book for next year? What do you readers think?***
Home For Christmas: A Christmas Poem
by J. Caleb Jones
There’s garland in the airport, and there’re families all with smiles
But I don’t share the happiness of these parents and juveniles.
I’m going home for Christmas, and into a painful past.
Whatever joy a gift may bring, it surely will not last.
Though noise of nephews, nieces, and all, will be there what I find
The thoughts of silent judging stares are present in my mind.
Though dozens say they hope to see me, when I arrive at home
No matter what they wish or say, I know I’ll be alone
There’s loneliness that’s more than merely being on your own:
A distance made from words and actions: disappointment shown.
A small disdain that started when I moved out of the sticks.
A coldness fed by distance and our lives that did not mix.
What can we talk about if no one cares for my ambitions?
They will deride my fast-paced life, and praise their own traditions.
Respected work I have, with perks, a bonus, and an assistant.
But all they seem to understand is “singleness” and distance.
And I don’t care what so-and-so says ‘bout the wreaths that Walmart picks.
There’s ‘zip’ for me to add ‘bout T-Ball leagues or church politics.
And I’ll care not if you ask about my job, as if you care,
When all you’ve ever given back is your awkward, silent stare.
And further yet I have to go, for home is not yet found,
Because this tiny airport serves a small and tiny town,
But m’ final destination, and the house my family shares,
Is in less than a tiny town: the middle of nowhere.
This time I give, my sentence served, will tie me over ‘til,
They once again will guilt me home by force of pleading will.
So, I must go and rent a car to make it home for Christmas.
I heard some thought this wish to trouble none was surreptitious
And walking through the gate, I find I won’t now get a car
It’s Chris: my younger brother, with son, both waving from afar.
“We’ve come to get you, where’s your bag?” he asks me with a hug,
And then before I could respond, on coat, I feel a tug.
“How tall’s the tower you work in?” My nephew asked to me,
“My dad tells me it’s 90 floors.” He said, “I don’t agree.”
“I looked it up. There’s not a building that tall in all Atlanta.”
“And ‘e LIED to me…” he said, while Chris then mouthed the word “Santa.”
“I’m sorry, but he’s right.” I said and Chris lets loose a smirk.
“But you’re right, too, ‘cause Atlanta’s not the only place I work.”
His eyes lit up as first he looked at me, then his dad, too.
And for the total car-ride home, he quizzed me on what I do.
“I’m glad you’re int’rest’d, Jake” I said. But his look was quite stark.
“Jake’s my older brother,” he laughed and said, “My name is Mark!”
My obliv’ousness was bad, and flub, I hoped was not pernicious.
But Chris just turned and said “I’m really glad you’re here Christmas.”
So me ‘n’ Mark talked on ‘til home. The car parked in the light.
And what surprise the pairs of eyes that tried to catch the sight.
Then Mark ran up across the porch, and quickly turned the knob.
Then yelling to the cousin crowd, “Guess what I heard ‘bout his job!”
I came into the door with leather bag hung o’er my shoulder
And ‘round ‘bout now is just the time that looks and words get colder.
But first my mother came to me, tears welling in her eyes.
No half-meant words, no hidden meaning, only heartfelt surprise.
“I’m glad you’re here.” She whispered as she hugged. I said “Me too.”
And then she gripped me harder still and said “Just know I love you.”
I hadn’t even noticed but a tear betrayed my crying.
Only then I knew, when I’d said, “Me too,” I actually wasn’t lying.
And when her grip then soon relaxed, I turned and saw my father.
I almost gave my hand to shake, but thought I shouldn’t bother.
But then he grabbed me, wrapping arms around my neck and shoulder
Unless my mem’ry fully fails, our last ‘Hello’ was colder.
“I’m glad you’re home,” He said. He gripped so hard, I could not move.
But strength in love never hurts. That force will only soothe.
He held and held, and then he swayed, my bag dropped from my shoulder.
And only then did I recognize how much he’s looking older.
He then let go, and with a laugh, he cried “Let’s start! He’s here!”
And for the first time in a while, I felt some Christmas cheer.
I saw my home with kitchen, hall, and den packed full with eyes:
Nephews, nieces, fam’ly. But so many I don’t recognize.
I then found Jake, the older cousin. And a niece, just three, named Autumn.
She hugged my leg and gripped my calf and placed on foot, her bottom.
There w’re more, whose names I’d heard before. But numbers, I didn’t comprehend.
And even those I’d met before: older selves, I met again.
My new best-friend named Mark, took me around to introduce,
“The Cool Uncle” to every niece and nephew with the news,
I worked in THREE contin’nts, EIGHT cities, and TWO big companies.
They loved my words as much as I adored my niece’s squeeze.
“Alright! Let’s pray, and then dig in! Gen. Dad yelled down the hall.”
And then Lieutenant Sons came in enforcing patriarch’s call.
“Dear God,” he prayed, “I thank you for this family that you’ve given.”
“I thank you for my son who made it even with his position.”
“We praise you, God, throughout our troubles and times which disappoint.”
“But now we thank you most for times like these that show the point.”
With his “Amen,” noise came again, and nephews raced to food.
But neither happy noise nor smell could change my heartfelt mood.
My father walked alone to me, and said, “Son, I’m proud of you.”
“ ’nd I’ve thought a lot ‘bout how we got so… um… askew.”
“I dislike Atlanta, I hate Berlin, and I loathe that Brazil-place, too.”
“But I’m sorry if you think… well… Son, I just miss you.”
“I know you’re busy, ‘nd I don’t know ‘nough to talk ‘bout the stuff you do.”
“But this house can be empty, ev’n when it’s full, so I hope you know we love you.”
“And I never get sad; I can only get angry. And to me, my anger’s malicious.”
“ ’cause your mother and I, but ‘specially me, just love when you’re home for Christmas.”
“So… well, I’m sorry.” He said, and then shrunk, and moved away.
But I, with forgiving word, convinced him, with a hug, to stay.
A father’s desire to right past wrongs, an arriving son forgives sin.
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”
There’s garland in the hallway, and my family’s full of smiles
And I share in the happiness of these parents and juveniles.
I made it home for Christmas, and erased a painful past.
Whatever joy the others have, I know that mine will last.
From the Prophet Isaiah, Chapter 9:1-7
Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the nations, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan—
2 The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
a light has dawned.
3 You have enlarged the nation
and increased their joy;
they rejoice before you
as people rejoice at the harvest,
as warriors rejoice
when dividing the plunder.
4 For as in the day of Midian’s defeat,
you have shattered
the yoke that burdens them,
the bar across their shoulders,
the rod of their oppressor.
5 Every warrior’s boot used in battle
and every garment rolled in blood
will be destined for burning,
will be fuel for the fire.
6 For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 Of the greatness of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty
will accomplish this.
From the Gospel of Luke, Chapter 2:1-20
Now it came to pass in those days, there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be enrolled. 2 This was the first enrolment made when Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 And all went to enrol themselves, every one to his own city. 4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David; 5 to enrol himself with Mary, who was betrothed to him, being great with child. 6 And it came to pass, while they were there, the days were fulfilled that she should be delivered. 7 And she brought forth her firstborn son; and she wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.
8 And there were shepherds in the same country abiding in the field, and keeping watch by night over their flock. 9 And an angel of the Lord stood by them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. 10 And the angel said unto them, Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all the people: 11 for there is born to you this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this is the sign unto you: Ye shall find a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, and lying in a manger. 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,
14 Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace among men in whom he is well pleased.
15 And it came to pass, when the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing that is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us. 16 And they came with haste, and found both Mary and Joseph, and the babe lying in the manger. 17 And when they saw it, they made known concerning the saying which was spoken to them about this child. 18 And all that heard it wondered at the things which were spoken unto them by the shepherds. 19 But Mary kept all these sayings, pondering them in her heart. 20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, even as it was spoken unto them.