Going Home

00001155TNImage provided courtesy of the Digital Image Archive, Pitts Theology Library

Scripture reflects the high value that God’s people placed on having a homeland, a hometown, and a home place. That value makes perfect sense when you recall how dangerous and insecure their world was, and how much attention was occupied by escaping war, slavery, famine, and drought. The stories they treasured explained their plight: they’d been kicked out of the Garden of Eden, flooded out of Mesopotamia, enslaved by Egyptians, marched into captivity by Babylonians. During times of desert wandering and periods of political exile, the Israelites were encouraged by the promise that God would give them a place of their own, that they would finally go home.

Remember what it was like the first time you were away from home for an extended period of time. Perhaps you were a college freshman, studying for tests instead of socializing with friends; or you were a soldier off to war; or you were in your 20s in a new job and new community. And homesickness came over you like a wave.

That’s a bit what it was like for the ancient people of God. That’s a bit what it’s like, sometimes, when you hear the news. In Philadelphia, an estranged husband kills his wife and five family members. In Sydney, an extremist gunman holds a chocolate shop hostage. In Pakistan, terrorists shoot more than 140 students and teachers. Sometimes, you hear and see all that, and, though your head wants to be engaged in the solution, all your heart wants to do is escape from the problem. You want to go home.

I’ve never ready a study on the timing of homesickness. But I suspect that it is this time of year, more than any other, that most of us feel a longing for home. We remember the people we love, from whom we are separated by geography or time or both, and we feel a kind of homesickness. As I’ve told you before, I hear this reflected in my mother’s annual question: “Are you coming home for Christmas?” Her head knows that I can’t always be there, but her heart hopes that it might be true. How great it would be to go for a just a while to the home we love best.

Today’s Hebrew Testament reading[1] isn’t the most common one you’ll hear during December, but it is important in the way that it sets the stage for the Christmas narratives of the gospels, and for what it says about the way God addresses our desire to go home.

After hundreds of years of wandering and war, the time came when Israel was at rest, and King David was secure in a palace at Jerusalem. It felt good to rest safely in a house built of cedar. In fact, it felt so good that David proposed to return the favor to God by building God a permanent house, a temple in which God would be praised and worshipped. Eventually, David’s son would build a house, in the next generation. But, in that moment, God responded in a way that turned David’s plan upside down. David wanted to build a house for God; but God said that instead he would build a house for David, an ancestral house, a spiritual house, that couldn’t be torn down by enemies or destroyed by the elements.

One thousand years later, angels appeared to a young couple, bringing news that God was expanding their family in an unexpected way. God led them to go home to Bethlehem, where a pivotal moment came in God’s project to building the house promised to David. The house would be secured and protected by God’s own son. The family ties would be extended to all those who trust Christ, who are, in the words of the Apostle Paul, “heirs according to the promise.”[2] They, too, would have a place in the Father’s house with many rooms.[3]

On the darkest day of the year, and in our dark moments, we are invited to see light and feel life in the knowledge that God, in Christ, has built an eternal home, and to trust that there is a room for us.

Many of you know that I deeply admire the writing of Frederick Buechner. Buechner was surprised by his call to enter seminary. His pastor George Buttrick even said that it would be a shame to lose a good novelist for a mediocre preacher. Though he never became a golden-tongued orator, Buechner proved to be both an outstanding writer and a compelling theologian.

He writes with great sensitivity about his final visit to his grandmother Naya, 94-years old, with a broken hip, but her mind intact. She knew as well as her grandson that it probably was the final time they would see each other, as it turned out to be. Frederick, who was accompanied by his wife and baby daughter, remembers the joy his grandmother felt in that hour, the way that brightness of youth and life in the dark little room caused her spirit to rejoice in a way undimmed by the fact that she was close to life’s end.

His grandmother was getting ready for the final journey home, but, in certain respects, she was already defined by her destination. She might have allowed the cruelty of her plight to eradicate any sense of beauty or joy, like we might when we hear news of the disaster of the day, or are faced by serious, sobering challenges. She saw with perfect clarity the dark of what the world held for her, but wasn’t split apart by it. For she saw the light, too, and knew that the darkness would not overcome it.

How very like Jesus, says Buechner, sitting at the Last Supper, with every reason to believe the end is upon him, yet looking around at twelve friends, and uttering the words: “Do not let your hearts be troubled …. In my Father’s house are many rooms …. I go to prepare a place for you …. Peace I leave with you.”[4]

No matter how much the world seems to have power to shatter us, if we carry around inside us a vision of healing and wholeness of our true home, then the joy that Buechner’s grandmother felt can be ours as well. Or, to express it another way, to the extent that Christ lives in our hearts today, we already are defined by our destination. Rejoice! Merry Christmas! We are going home.

NOTES

[1] 2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16

[2] Galatians 3:29.

[3] John 14:2-3.

[4] Frederick Buechner, “The Journey Toward Wholeness,” chapter six in The Longing for Home: Recollections and Reflections, HarperSanFrancisco, 1996, pp. 105-121.

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~ by JohnH1962 on December 21, 2014.

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