They say home is where the heart is, but I reckon that wasn’t written by someone living in a sub-letted condo in downtown Atlanta that, as it turns out, wasn’t allowed to be sub-letted in the first place and would eventually force the occupants to move out under the cover of darkness for fear of being discovered as imposters in a condo with water coming up through the floor. At times like that, home is easily defined as any place where a knock on the door doesn’t bring a cringe with it.
Home is far deeper at times. Home is the place we return to when we need someone who loves us for who we are. Home is the place where we feel supported and loved, where we recharge and relax. Home is a blessing.
In our busy lives, home is more concept than reality. Home is a sense within our soul, a longing for something more, something deeper, than the transient times we often share with those we love in the midst of our turbulent, hectic lives. In the last month I’ve seen lines of cars stretched as far as they eye can see, each waiting to tour some department store in hopes of finding just the right gift, each driver with a wearied look, longing for home.
Christmas brings forth so many memories of home. We gather around a tree, around the table, singing old songs and telling the old, old story. We do so at home as well as here at church. We return to this familiar place, each of us changed by the previous year and longing for the constancy we find in the Christmas story. It is an old, beloved blanket we pull over ourselves on a cold winter night, and we are instantly warmed by its love.
In that first Christmas story, it was a time of searching. Mary and Joseph left behind what they had called home to travel to another home, the little town of Bethlehem, because that was the town of his ancestors. For three days they traveled, longing for home, Joseph and his pregnant bride passing the difficult miles with expectations of what was beyond the next rise. Would the baby come here? Could they make a new home? Would everything work out?
What was to come?
When they finally arrived, they didn’t even find a home to rest. There was no room in the inn, so home brought them to a manger, with sheep and oxen nearby, the scent of the farm heavy in the air as the baby came into the world, bringing them home in this homeless town.
We share the walk of Mary and Joseph, for we, too, are traveling home. We don’t always recognize the milestones between here and Bethlehem, but we know the call of the Savior, and our feet carry us homeward. Our lives are lived on the journey, somewhere between Nazareth and Bethlehem, and we mark the milestones on this journey, each of us going home, wandering together over difficult mountains and flat, broad plains. They journey is different for each of us, yet we all walk the same line, yearning for Bethlehem yet filled with so many questions on the journey.
For we are all headed toward Bethlehem, toward Christ, toward home. We’re all going home, to the only place where we are truly home, and we are following a path marked by those who have gone before us. We recognize many of the milestones, and we gather on evenings like this to celebrate the journey, to remember why we go.
We’re going because of the baby, because in Bethlehem all things are made new once again. Mangers become thrones, stables become palaces, unwed teenagers become treasured by God. If you look closely, you can see the twinkling jewels placed in the sky as the angels sing and shepherds, those lowly, uneducated shepherds, are suddenly seen as princes in the kingdom.
We’re going because of love, because of an infinite love we don’t understand yet recognize when we see it. A love that spoke the world into being and fell in love with its fertile grounds, a love that came into the world so that we might recognize those moments of home, a love that transformed us from lowly sinners into saints of God.
God is calling us home, and we hear the voice of the baby reminding us of the journey. We have spent so much time walking at we sometimes forget where we’re going, we forget that we’re not alone. The light dims as we turn our heads, wander astray, get lost in the mountains. So the church gathers to hold the candles high, to let light pour through us, to show the way home. We’re all going together, to the place we’ve always known yet never been, to the one place where, when the world has turned its back, they’ll always take you in. Home is waiting, calling to the soul.
This Christmas Eve, may we remember home, and remember that we never go there alone.
Let us pray.