The Rev. Jeunee Godsey ~ Christmas Eve 2018 ~ Home for Christmas
I read recently that back On December 17th, 1903, after four attempts, the Wright Brothers flew their “flying machine” for the first time in Kitty Hawk, NC. Wilbur rushed to the local telegraph office and sent the following message: “We have flown for 12 seconds – will be home for Christmas!”
Upon receiving the telegram, their sister Katherine went to the newspaper office and told them the news. Two days later, the local paper placed the following headline on page six:
“Wright brothers home for Christmas.”
Amazingly, being home for Christmas trumped the feat of their flight. Sure, they were the first to fly, but it was even more important that they were coming home. Incidentally, their hometown is my hometown, Dayton, Ohio.
How many of you have heard recently “Are you going home for Christmas,” or “Is your family coming home for Christmas?”
Why is that?
“There’s no place like Home for the Holidays,” sang Perry Como in the 1950s.
“I’ll be home for Christmas,” sang Bing Crosby back in 1944, and that song became instantly popular because so many folk serving in WWII were away from home.
There’s something deep within each of us that longs to belong to a place called home.
Home can be a sacred space.
Here at St. Michael’s as we began the new church year this Advent, we began a new yearly theme of “Exploring Sacred Space.” And for the Seasons of Advent and Christmas, we have been looking at the Sacred Space of Home, and all that it means.
Of course, you don’t have to get to know too many people’s stories before you realize that not everyone’s home is, or was, a “Sacred Space.” Unfortunately, not everyone gathered in our homes always exhibits emotional maturity, appropriate boundaries, a loving attitude, and a cooperative spirit.
At least in my family, we mostly manage to keep the “fun” in Dysfunctional.
Seriously, giddy with expectation as my out of town kids made their way to my home last night. I know most of you here treasure the opportunity to welcome family or friends into your home, or to be in the homes of your loved ones.
At the same time, there are also likely quite a few of you who may be struggling this year because a loved one will be missing from the Christmas Dinner table. Some of you may have some challenging visitor demanding space in your home… illness, joblessness, depression. Some of you may even feel “homeless” or exiled this holiday season, not sure where you fit.
Pastor John Ortberg suggests that there’s the home we long for and the home we have – and there’s always a gap between them.
We all know that Joseph and Mary were away from their own homes that first Christmas. They lived in Nazareth, but had to travel the 90 miles south, through the desert, five miles past Jerusalem, to get up to Bethlehem, to be counted for tax purposes.
We think of them travelling alone, like so many Christmas cards depict, but with the census being held, there were many others on the road. They would have seen lots of people, so it’s no wonder that when they got to Bethlehem, all the rooms for people were taken. So, they settled for a place reserved for animals, and Jesus’ first bed, his first home, was a feeding trough, a manger. It was probably in a cave, since caves were often used to house animals and people in that part of the world, where wood is scarce.
The shepherds, also, because of the nature of their work, were far from home, and out in the fields.
We learn in the Gospel of Mathew that by the time the Wise men came, probably 1-2 years later. the family was living in a house in Bethlehem.
Through dreams God told the magi and Joseph that it wasn’t safe to stay in Bethlehem, because King Herod was intent on destroying any perceived threats to his power, so Joseph took his family to leave for Egypt. It may well have been the precious gifts of Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh that supported the family in their arduous journey to a foreign country. They travelled as refugees fleeing persecution. They made their home in a foreign land until they learned Herod had died.
They were then able to finally return home to Nazareth for the first time, maybe when Jesus was about 4-5. He grew up there as a Carpenter’s son.
During his ministry, Jesus made Capernaum his home base of sorts, which is where Peter and some of the other disciples were from. But Jesus himself never had his own home. He said once, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”
No word is as evocative as the word “home.”
It fill hearts with warmth and delight. Or, it can fill us with regret.
Home is where our story begins. It’s the place where we get our names, where we make our memories, where people always ask where we are from. It’s where we do life.
We can feel nostalgic for home and experience an ache for home that is never quite realized.
That’s because our longing for home on this side of eternity is an echo of our longing to be at home with God.
Moses wrote in psalm 90, “Lord, through all the generations, you have been our home.”
Moses was a man who probably thought about home a lot, because he never really had one. He was placed in a basket as a baby to spare his life, and so was raised without his own mother and father. As a young man he had to flee into the desert to escape those wanting to take his life. In Midian, he found a wife and had a child, but couldn’t really settle down because God called to him out of a burning bush to help the Israelites escape slavery in Egypt. After leaving Egypt, they wandered in the desert for 40 years, and Moses died on a desolate mountain, looking into the promised land of Canaan, but having never arrived there. Nevertheless, he writes, “You, Lord, all this time, YOU have been our home.” Psalm 91 says, “He who 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.
Home. Shelter. Rest. Refuge. Fortress.
A healthy human home is a wonderful illustration of what it means to be home in God. A healthy home is a place where you don’t have to perform to be loved. Where you are always welcome. Where good things happen. It is a place where you embraced just because you are there, just because of who you are, and often times despite whatever you’ve done. Home is a place you are fed and provided for. You are protected and kept safe. In hard times, you are there, together. You are never abandoned. You are helped and cared for and you are able to extend that same sense of home to others.
That’s what it means to be at home with God.
The problem is, we often run away from home with God. We chafe at the perceived rules, or think we have a better way, or simply wander off. Or get lost.
Did you ever run away? I remember a few times as a little girl getting so angry with my mother that I packed a small bag with some provisions and “ran away from home” by climbing up and hiding in the big tree in our yard. I didn’t want to go too far. I wanted to be able to see my mom and brother looking for me. Begging me to come back. Apologizing for whatever they did. It never worked out. My mom didn’t chase after me. I don’t think she even noticed I was gone. And of course, I got too bored to stay away too long.
Jesus tells the story of a famous runaway, the prodigal son, but in that story, the Father, representing God, is always on the lookout for the son, and runs out to greet him when he returns, and throws a big party at his homecoming.
The story of Christmas is a homecoming story. One where God takes the initiative. Rather than us having to figure out how to get home to God, God comes and makes his home with us.
Author Barbara Brown Taylor describes that feeling of having a sense that there is a place we belong, and that somehow, we are separated from it and miss it. She says, “We sense that that place misses us, too,” and because we cannot find our way there, the place comes to us, and it turns out not to be a place at all. It turns out to be a person. Emmanuel, the one who came to be with us forever. (1)
Emmanuel means “God with us.” God made his home in the flesh and blood of a human baby, Jesus. It’s a radical expression of God’s love to want to be with us.
And Jesus showed us through his life of love and compassion the type of home God wants with us. God wants to us to enjoy a home, a kingdom, of wholeness and justice and peace reign. Jesus through his death and resurrection made that kind of home-life possible.
In the Prologue to the Gospel of John, another reading often used at Christmas, which we will hear next Sunday, says, “In the beginning was the Word… and The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” Or as the Message version of the bible translates, “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.” And through the power of the Holy Spirit, God doesn’t just move into the neighborhood, Jesus moves into our hearts. God makes his home with us.
This is the Good News of Christmas, and is echoed in the words we just sang in “O Little Town of Bethlehem.”
O holy Child of Bethlehem,
descend to us, we pray.
Cast out our sin and enter in, be born in us today.
We hear the Christmas angels the great glad tidings tell.
O come to us, abide with us, our Lord Emmanuel!
1 Barbara Brown Taylor, “None of Us Is Home Yet,” The Preaching Life (Cowley Publications, 1993), p. 158.