In 1923 Buck Ram, a young, homesick college student, was feeling sad because he would not be able to go home for Christmas that year. Sensing that his mother might also be sad about him not being home, he wrote a little poem to send to her, along with a letter he was writing.
Twenty years later, Buck was a successful songwriter and music producer. One evening, he was in a bar with a couple of guys who were also in the music business, Walter Kent and Kim Gannon. Buck told the two men how he had been working on making a song out of this old poem of his, but still wasn’t pleased with the result. He jotted down what he had done with it so far and showed it to them. When they parted, and when Buck wasn’t looking, one of his friends picked up the piece of paper with the poem on it. The next year, Kent and Gannon released a song entitled “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” sung on that first album by Bing Crosby. It was 1943, and with so many soldiers off to war and thinking about home, it became a huge hit. Buck Ram immediately recognized the song as a reworking of his poem that he had shown to the two men the year before. Ram had already copyrighted the poem, so he went to court to sue Kent and Gannon, and won the case. Kent and Gannon then owed Buck Ram some money, but it was then their song. They had, in fact, reworked it considerably, and it went on to become on of the most popular Christmas songs of all time.
“I’ll be home for Christmas, tho’ just in memory,” Buck Ram had written.
Kent and Gannon changed it to those lines that are now so familiar:
I’ll be home for Christmas, you can plan on me…
I’ll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams.
“Only in my dreams…” That is, of course, how it was for many soldiers in 1943, and that is how it has to be for many people for a variety of reasons. Here in Minnesota, the weather sometimes keeps families from getting together for Christmas. That is then for many people a big disappointment, because being home for Christmas is indeed such a huge holiday tradition. For many families, with members living all over the country, Christmas is the only time they get together. Making the trip can be a challenge for a whole family to schedule, a huge expense for those flying, and a significant hassle to make it all work, even when the weather is fine. For most people, the trip is well worth it. It is important to maintain those family ties and connections, and that cannot be done without occasional visits and traditions– and being together at home for Christmas is one of the best-loved family traditions.
It is worth noting that this season, which has become the one time of year that people really try to go home, began with the story of a young family that was a long ways from home. The story of the first Christmas begins with the story of a journey, a journey away from home, which for Mary and Joseph was Nazareth, to Bethlehem, where Joseph was required to register with the Roman government for a census. Bethlehem was seventy miles from Nazareth, they would have to walk, and Mary was almost ready to give birth. It was not a good time for a journey and not a good time to be away from the comfort and the support of home.
To make matters even worse, when the registration was done, and after the baby had been born, Mary and Joseph were still not able to go home for a very long time. Matthew’s Gospel tells the story of the wise men, who meant well, but unknowingly put the new baby’s life in danger by telling King Herod about the birth of this new King. After the wise men leave the holy family, Joseph was warned in a dream to take his family to Egypt and hide there for a while because King Herod would be trying to kill Jesus. Then Matthew tells us of Herod’s wicked decree that all the baby boys in Bethlehem under the age of two were to be killed. Think of the grief that caused for those many families in Bethlehem!
Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus did flee in time, but they had to stay in Egypt for two full years until the death of Herod. Only then was it safe to finally return home to Nazareth. (continued…)
Luke 2:1…3-5 — In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. And everyone went to their own town to register. So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem, the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.
Matthew 2:13-15a — When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.” So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod.
Lord, we pray for our own families at Christmas time; for those who will be with us, and for those who will be far away; for those too young to understand all the excitement, and for those who feel sad because of memories of those who are no longer with us. Help us to be patient with one another, and show us how we can put the love of Jesus at the heart of Christmas. Amen.