TRA 21st December 2003
HOME FOR CHRISTMAS
Yvonne, one of our members, is recovering after surgery on her knee in hospital. She said to me, "I hope to be home for Christmas, even if it only for a few hours." It is a natural desire, no matter where we may be in the world, to be home for Christmas. One Christmas card to us read: "We are now settled in and enjoying everything here. However there have been times when we have been quite homesick." Homesick at Christmas!
"Home for Christmas!" that is the cry of every hospital patient, tourists overseas, interstate businessmen, overseas Army personnel - many people cannot be home for Christmas. There are people in hospitals, gaols, nursing centres for the aged, illegal asylum seekers in detention centres in a strange land, who like Ruth in Old Testament "sick for home stood in tears amid the alien corn." There are those like the prodigal son have gone their way and spent their money and lived like pigs careless of the broken hearts at home and now doubt whether they could return. Some, like our missionaries, have selflessly gone in God's service to the uttermost parts of the earth depriving themselves of Christmas at home to be on His Majesty's Service.
Home for Christmas! It does not mean much to some, but as you grow older, and the family begins to disintegrate and move apart, one of the most cherished hopes is that once a year we might all be "Home for Christmas!" We are a mobile society. We shift with greater frequency. Businesses and governments order their employees round like pawns on a chess-board. Some live all their days in a succession of caravan-parks. Home is wherever there is a laundry and community toilet.
In rural towns most of the young people between 16 and 25 years live down in the big cities. Wives of property managers often have packed up and shifted 20 times in their marriage. More and more people becoming rootless nomads without ties of commitment to family, kin or community. Home for Christmas! Where is home? Many wouldn't know where to go! Walk through the Central Business District on Christmas Day and look at the people idly walking the streets, staring at the photos outside the closed theatres, eating donuts beside some curb-side vendor. People on their own, people without family, ones and twos who have nowhere else to go to but can't stand being in the flat because they feel they should go home for Christmas! Many come to have dinner with Beverley and me in Wesley Centre, which is as near to home as they have!
1. JESUS KNOWS WE WANT TO BE AT HOME.
I guess Jesus wanted to be home for the first Christmas. His birthday and birth place were important. But Caesar in Rome took no notice of a pregnant peasant woman in Nazareth on the fringe of the Empire. "A decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be enrolled. All went to be enrolled, everyone to his own city. And Joseph went up from Galilee from the city of Nazareth to Judea to the city of Bethlehem (David's town) because he was of the house and lineage of David to be enrolled with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child." Luke 2:1-5 Their home town was Nazareth, but they travelled 100 kilometres miles on foot - taking days - to get to Bethlehem. They may have been upset that Mary had to make such a journey at such a time, not knowing that in so doing they were going to the very village the Old Testament had prophesied.
"And while they were there the time came for her to be delivered and she gave birth to her first-born son, and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger because there was no room for them in the inn." There is an irony here: Jesus was of the House of David, but in Bethlehem there was no room for Him in the inn. Nazareth was the home of the young family, but after the birth, they would be away from home on the first Christmas and for the next few years! Bethlehem should have become a safe place for them but paranoid Herod heard of Jesus being a new King of the Jews him and ordered all the male children killed. So Mary, Joseph and their baby Jesus fled as asylum seekers to Egypt. So the second and third Christmas came and Jesus was not home for Christmas! Through scriptures we read that after he started huis three year ministry when He returned to Nazareth, He was cast out of Nazareth by people who tried to kill him. For the next three years Jesus was not home for His birthday!
Jesus once said "Foxes have their homes, the birds of the air have their nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head." Later we read "And the disciples went, each to his own home, but Jesus went to the Mount of Olives all night." Jesus understands the refugee and the asylum seeker! He once was one! Jesus understands the homeless, the boy away from home in the big city, the person who is left when all their friends go to their homes, that feeling of being rejected by people, of being unwanted, of being alone for He was! But go deeper: Jesus had been with the Father before his birth. This world was not His home. He came from heaven to earth. He understands that feeling that some get that no matter where they are they are not at home. He understands.
2. BETHLEHEM CAN BECOME HOME TO THE WORLD.
In Bethlehem today, Israeli soldiers, illegal settlers, Palestinian terrorists, Muslim Mosque, Christian Church and Jewish synagogue and Arab shops all battle for their space. Bethlehem is the home of so many! Perhaps the very naturalness of the birth of Jesus makes it home for hearts wearied by a world of materialism. The birth was among straw and manger, hay and oxen, shepherds and sheep, lamp-light and star-light, nothing crass and materialistic, just simple, poor, natural! Bethlehem is home to all "good earth" people! But there is a deeper reason. There is a restlessness in the hearts of humans that is never satisfied by our fast, shiny, super-slick world. Augustine put in "Thou hast made us for thyself, our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee!" Only as we draw near to God, to Bethlehem, where God comes among humankind, do we find that rest and peace. The English poet Gilbert Keith Chesterton wrote:
"There fared a mother driven forth,
Out of an inn to roam;
In the place where she was homeless
All men are at home. ....
A Child in a foul stable
Where the beasts feed and foam
Only where He was homeless
Are you and I at home.
To an open house in the evening
Home shall all men come
To an older place than Eden
And a taller town than Rome
To the place where God was homeless,
... and all men are at home!"
3. FOR JESUS CAME TO BRING US HOME.
He came in flesh, so we might be born of the spirit. He was homeless that we might be at home with God. The Son of God became a son of man, that we sons of men might become sons of God! He was born that we might be reborn! He left home that we might be brought home!
"He left his father's throne above,
So free, so infinite his grace,
Emptied himself of all but love
And bled for Adam's helpless race."
Jesus was born so that we might have the assurance that no matter where we are in this world, He is with us, and no matter what happens this world isn't the end - there is more to follow! Jesus gave us His presence. Matthew starts with the prophecy: "His name shall be called Emmanuel, which means "God with us" and ends with the promise "Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world!" Jesus also gave us His promise: "I go and prepare a place for you. I will come again and take you to myself, that where I am, there you may be also!" He gave us the promise of His presence on earth and His promise of a home in heaven. A friend of mine sang:
"This world is not my home,
I'm just a passin' through,
My treasures are laid up,
somewhere beyond the blue,
The angels beckon me, from heaven's open door,
And I can't feel at home in this world any more!"
The thought of Bethlehem encourages us, for it assures us homeless wanderers that He abides with us here on earth, and He will take us to our Home in Heaven.
Jesus came so that we might find the eternal home for our souls. He had come to take us home to our heavenly Father. In the heart of Kenya, lies the grave of Lord Baden-Powell. The wording on the gravestone reads: "Lord Baden-Powell, Chief Scout of the World. Born 1857. Died 1941." And underneath a curious symbol: a circle with a dot in the centre. But every scout who has learnt his scout signs knows this means: "I have gone home." Jesus was born that we could say that. He has gone ahead to prepare a place for us. Now by faith we follow through death to the life beyond.
4. OUR TRUE HOME IS HEAVEN.
In the Bible the word "heaven" is used to describe both a physical part of the universe and the dwelling place of God. The phrase "heaven and earth" was used to denote the entire universe. Gen 1:1; Deut 4:26; Ps 121:2; 146:6; Mark 13:31; Acts 17:24 God dwells in heaven. In heaven is God's throne from which God reigns. To describe God as dwelling in heaven is to recognize the transcendence of God, God's separateness from the created order. Even the vast expanse of heaven, however, is not large enough to contain God. 1 Kgs 8:27
The "God of heaven" 2 Chr 36:23 is also the God of earth. Israel always saw God as one who was involved in the world which He had created. The whole history of God's dealing with the people of Israel and Judah demonstrated God's activity in the world. God dwelt not only in heaven, but also among God's people. Exod 29:45-46; 1 Kgs 6:13; Zech 2:10-11 The New Testament speaks of God as residing in heaven Matt 5:16; 6:9; Mark 11:25; Rev 3:12; 4:2 but also emphasizes the presence of God in the world. Since heaven is the abode of God, heaven is also the source of salvation.
The bread which fed the Israelites in the wilderness came from heaven. Exod 16:4 Blessings upon God's people come from heaven. Life after death is located in heaven with God. Heaven is the place of eternal reward for the faithful. Heaven has many rooms. John 14:2 It is the believer's eternal home. 2 Cor 5:1-10
What does this mean for us today? If we are more heavenly minded, we will be more earthly use! The idea of heaven as our home removes any sense of loneliness, gives us a destiny to which we look forward, and assures us that we shall have fellowship with other believers who have died in faith, and who await us.
We should be people of hope, looking forward to Heaven.
We should make sure we heading home for Christmas.
We should acknowledge His presence among us.
We should claim His promise to take us home to Heaven. We should look forward to our eternal home.
All of this because of Christmas. He who was not at home for the first Christmas, has enabled all people of faith in Jesus as Saviour and Lord, to be home for Christmas, no matter where they are on earth. Our faith in Him, gives us the opportunity for entering our eternal home forever. Would you now accept Jesus as God's Son who came to open the doors of heaven, so you can be eternally with God forever?
- Freedman, David Noel, ed., The Anchor Bible Dictionary, (New York: Doubleday) 1997, 1992
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