As you all know, we have now been in Bristol for fourteen months after moving from West Dulwich,

South East London. This isn’t the first time we have moved places: when I was one we moved from    Sunderland to Stockton-on-Tees; we then moved to a new house during that time as the one we were living in had started to rot. Then from Stockton to London very soon after I had turned eleven. Add to that my time living in Canterbury on and off during my three year undergraduate degree and it begins to show how for many, including myself, different locations can become home.

This sense of travel to and from differing homes is one of my favourite parts of the story of Jesus’ birth – not that of the Wise Men, but that of Mary and Joseph and the infant child themselves. Although this    depends on which Gospel is being read, with Luke being the one that I prefer, the theme of returning to one’s homeland can be found in both. This is made poignant and creates unease when you begin to think about world history and society – particularly the issues faced by refugees, immigrants and the homeless. As a Benefice, we are trying to do our part to create a welcoming home of faith for all.

Jesus’ own homeland of Nazareth, Galilee and Joseph being the patron saint of houses and families       furthers the theme of home within that of the Christmas story and connects with us modern Christians. The Nativity is a tale of tradition but also of belonging and family, which are all paramount to the season and culture of Christmas as a whole. For me, I have always felt most at home during Advent and     Christmas wherever we are living. Although it can be very stressful at times, my immediate family and my church family give me more love and hope at this time of the year more than any other.

A Bible verse that I feel links all my above thoughts together on the theme of home and belonging is that of Psalm 91:1-2; “whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” God is our comfort and protection and so are our homes, both the ones we live in day-to-day and the buildings that hold our two churches. As we continue to develop the buildings and visions for the future of our Benefice, I hope that we can continue to be a home for each other and anyone who comes into our churches.

Beth Stephenson