Sunday, December 6, 2009

Home by Another Way

This post is #2 in a series of Advent devotionals. To read the first, please click HERE.

James Taylor sings a song called Home by Another Way, loosely based on Matthew 2:1-12. Let me quote the first stanza of the song if you’re not familiar with it:

Those magic men the Magi
Some people call them wise
Or oriental, even kings,
Well any way, those guys
They visited with Jesus
They sure enjoyed their stay
Then warned in a dream of King Herod’s scheme
They went home by another way.

It’s not explicitly a Christmas song because Taylor uses the Magi’s journey “home by another way” as a metaphor for trying to get safely home from whatever journey we are on. He sings, “Maybe me and you can be wise guys too / And go home by another way.”

Every year during Advent, I listen to this song because it reminds me that Christmas has a new Herod these days. The commercialization of Christmas has turned our attention away from the celebration of Jesus’ birth to the celebration of stuff and stress. The song goes on to warn:

Steer clear of royal welcomes
Avoid a big to-do
A king who would slaughter the innocents
Will not cut a deal for you
He really, really wants those presents
He’ll comb your camel’s fur
Until his boys announce they’ve found trace amounts
Of your frankincense, gold, and myrrh.

Instead of enjoying our stay with Jesus, we start worrying about gifts, money, shipping deadlines, and big to-dos. We stress and fret and worry and snap at sales clerks and tell people how busy we are and whine about how many dozens of cookies we have to bake. We compete with our neighbors to see who has the biggest inflatable snow globe and who spends the most on their kids’ presents.

I used to think it mattered how much time I spent on Christmas preparations. That was my pride at work. Other people didn’t do as much, didn’t log as many hours, which meant they didn’t do Christmas as well as I did. One year, when most of my husband’s Air Force squadron was deployed overseas for the holidays, we decided to have a big open house Christmas Day for those left behind and their families. I baked and bought and prepared and decorated for 50 guests because 37 had RSVP’d and some said they might bring friends.

Only seven people showed up, one just two months old. As you might imagine, he didn’t eat much.

Two families went home with enough leftovers for a month, and I was left with a new perspective on Christmas, one that’s taken me safely home (at least metaphorically) every Christmas since. I focus not on doing what Herod says, but on going home another way. Last year, I didn’t bake a single cookie because it felt like a chore rather than a joy. You know what? It was still a great Christmas.

I need that yearly reminder, though. The enticements of commercialized Christmas are pervasive. The last verse of Taylor’s song hits a bit close to home for me:

… Herod’s always out there
He’s got our cards on file
It’s a lead-pipe cinch if you give an inch
Old Herod likes to take a mile

How is Herod calling you this Christmas? How can you opt out of his scheme and make Christmas a wonderful celebration by taking another way?

I couldn't find a video of James Taylor singing this song, but HERE's a performance by Fr. Erich Fechner.


  1. Funny, I stopped baking cookies, too! (I buy them--gasp!) I certainly don't need the extra calories these days, either. And I also cut out pies at Thanksgiving, so I guess I'm quite the rebel. Christmas is at our house, and I serve a simple meal with ample leftovers to send home with my Dad and my son and his family. Then I spend the rest of the day on the floor playing board games with my grandkids. The dishes can wait... A few years back, I decided to be a Mary rather than a Martha, reveling in the love and peace of the true (non-commercialized)Christmas!

  2. Susan, I have so enjoyed your two essays so far. Every year I say "it's going to be different," and this year it really may. We've had the grandkids here a good bit since Thanksgiving, so I "couldn't" do much shopping & stuff. So 4-year old Haden & I have slowly decorated the house, put up the tree, made a pie, read Christmas books, watched Christmas videos, and have been having a thoroughly wonderful time. You have put the feeling into words, and I'm grateful. "Home by Another Way" is a much better way.

  3. Thank you for this timely reminder. Over here in the U.K. it has become as commercialised as the U.S. Indeed I have just said to my husband this week that I'm only putting up our little tree as we go to our son for the day....and gifts are simple indeed. Over the years I've done less and less. By the way our younger son is a Squadron Leader in the RAF and has spent 2 Christmasses in The Falklands and one in Afghanistan. We have had our 100th soldier blown up today...our prayers are with that family tonight. Thanks for your words of wisdom.

  4. This has been a poignant post. I've hated the commercialization for so long I refuse to go out of house on "Black Friday" because it's SO ridiculous. Stores opening at 4 AM now-good grief! I'm so glad I'm not the only one who wants to remember the real "WHY" of Christmas.


Thanks so much for taking time to comment!