Psalm 127; Matthew 2:19-23, 4:12-16
December 26, 2021
- What Home means to us in light of Jesus’ home.
There are plenty of good Christmas stories floating around these days, and you have probably taken the opportunity to enjoy the movies or programs or books or articles yourself. It is one of the joys of the Christmas season to explore the memories and fun and new turns and twists of the stories that fill Christmas with its cheer. Of course, the Grinch is a perennial favorite. I grew up on the cartoon version of Dr. Suess’s book which is also great. The Grinch himself, as you probably know, is not so great, though. He is absolutely horrible and detestable throughout the story up to the very end. Apparently, he is also horrible and detestable in real life.
You may have heard of the family over in the UK who hired a professional Grinch impersonator to show up at their Christmas party just a few weeks ago. They expected him to come into at their home and to mess with this and that, to engage in hijinks, and to be an all-around obnoxious person. Apparently, he was so bad (according to the mother) that he tore up the house, threw food, broke ornaments, broke eggs on the floor, and poured some kind of fairy juice all over the child of the home. I saw a picture of the place, and it was a disaster, but when you invite the Grinch into your home, you get what you pay for? Right?
I’m not so sure I would invite the Grinch into MY home. And I suspect you might be reluctant to do this, too. On the one hand, I am probably enough Grinch for my whole family. On the other hand, home is a special place, and to have the home violated in really any way is a fairly big deal. My own family is still dealing with that criminal case regarding the man who broke into our house last year. That really shook us as a family, but there is plenty of good around home, too.
This whole Advent season leading up to Christmas has been thinking about home and what that means in the Bible. If you have been following along, it should come as no surprise that we might consider home in light of Jesus, himself. Jesus has a very interesting relationship with the idea of home. Of course, he was not born at home but some ways away from Nazareth in Bethlehem. Even though they are 70 miles apart as the crow flies, it would have been a longer journey avoiding more dangerous places and with a very pregnant young lady. A good estimate is that Mary and Joseph would have travelled for at least a week to get there. Once there, Mary gave birth to Jesus, and they seemed to live there for up to two years before the eastern astrologers or wisemen showed up. By that time, they were living in a house. The story of Matthew makes this context clear.
From there, they travel quickly to Egypt where they live for a few years until King Herod dies. We don’t know precisely how long that was, but once Jesus and his family returns to Nazareth, he only remains there until it’s time for him to wander out. Then, Jesus takes the road to Galilee. The path that goes that way would have taken him right to Capernaum. I walked a little of that path, myself, and I showed pictures of that road in my presentation on Galilee earlier this year. Jesus was a travelling man, no doubt about it.
Luke really expounds on that in chapter 9 when Jesus responds to people who are interesting in following him. He tells them that, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” And when people say they want to follow but want to go back home first to say good-bye or to bury a family member, Jesus brushes them off completely. He seems to really have no sentimentality about home. When he does return to Nazareth, he is rejected there, so maybe his feelings are warranted.
I’m not so sure that if they had had a Christmas parade at Nazareth back then, they would have asked Jesus to be the grand marshal of the parade, but if they had, I’m not so sure he would have accepted the invitation. Maybe the first lesson of today is that we should all leave home and shake the dust off our shoes and not look back, right? Well, of course not. Jesus is working out of a time and situation in which he cannot be tied to any one place. He has to be a travelling teacher. In a traditional rabbinic way, he moves from town to town to teach and help the locals. Also, he cannot be worried about what is behind him AND ahead of him. What happened at home was smaller to him than his work for God. You remember what he said about who his family were: those who do the will of God. That is where his focus was.
Another way of looking at this, a better way, is that his true home and his ministry are more connected than maybe is obvious. Jesus’ home was on the road, staying with friends wherever he found them, travelling constantly as he spread the gospel. Some people take their work home; Jesus took his home to work.
Our modern notion that you work in one place and live in another is really being challenged in these days. You have probably heard that since so many people had to work from home over the course of the pandemic and continue to, the work force is rethinking the idea about working from home. There had always been a few people who had this option, but it has become a necessity for so many who would never have been able to do it before. More and more employees expect this now. I don’t think I could work from home well, but there are loads of people out there for whom this makes a lot of sense, especially people with small children who need the flexibility to work around other schedules. This pandemic has really changed how the world thinks about work, but it has not rethought what home means. For Jesus, there is no distinction. Home is not one place or two places or three places. It moves with him through his ministry. Sure, Capernaum somewhat ended up be like a homebase to him, but that is where his fishermen friends lived, and it was a perfect location for his ministry around the Sea of Galilee. He could pass through going north or south. Jesus was not bound to a physical home like you or I am, but his life was on the road. He was at home among the people of God and in doing the work of God, first. Any home would have been what is convenient for the ministry. Just like the working from home situation today is a matter of convenience for the employees and the employer.
In this way of thinking, home is perhaps where we are most needed. That may be what points us to home. Yes, we are probably most needed where the rest of our family is, if we have a rest of the family out there, but the Spirit of God has a way of pulling us into exactly the places where we need to be.
I am mindful of John Arehart telling me of his time in Nepal with the Peace Corp. He was far away from home, but he followed that service into a new home that has stayed with him the rest of his life. On a smaller scale, I found something similar in my chaplaincy to India. The hospitality and friendship of those folk in faraway lands made it possible to make a home where it was not home.
Just think about how many people swarmed Jesus with love. It does not matter whether they understood what he was saying or doing. What they saw and felt and tasted and heard was someone who pointed them to God and reminded them that God was in their midst. They needed that more than anything as the Roman boot crushed down on their necks, as their life and health were pressed like olives, and there was no hope of a future unless God’s own Christ came to save them, so you know they welcomed Jesus with arms wide open. They made a home for him in so many places.
How are we making a home for Jesus today? I wonder whether we really consider how much we might still need Jesus, really need him. Does he have a home in our families and in our homes? Does he have a home in our community? How much do we know that we need him?
One side of this is to think about where we are needed, but that question can only be answered once we get a sense of where Jesus is needed. Sure, we could say he is needed everywhere, but he does seem to be needed in some places more than other places. In fact, I think he is needed in Farmville in some pretty significant ways. The wider community here has a particularly hard time coming together, really coming together. We need Jesus to come and point us in a good direction for greater collaboration in ministry. There is strength in numbers. We need our sisters and brothers out there to better find our Lord between us. Ministry has to be what lifts up our neighbor and not just us.
Whatever home is to you, it has to mean more than just to you. Home is where life happens, and life is never just about staying behind locked doors and curtained windows. Our homes should never have moats and drawbridges. Some people have used their homes as places of ministry to the community like the East End Fellowship and the CHAT ministry in Church Hill that I have mentioned in worship before, but homes right here have reached across fences to neighbors, even to those with whom we truly disagree. They must have because God is here moving in our midst. The love and grace of God have been moving in the generations of yesterday in times of less than love. Jesus is at work because we need Jesus here. The Holy Spirit is making us stronger in our home through faith.
Whether you are new to the area or a long timer, it makes no difference in terms of this place and time being a home to you. We are here to follow our Lord where and when he leads. We need him because this community and the world are crying out for better from the people of God. This place is special to us because God has made it special to you, to me, and to all of those whom God needs us to love this day and every day. Amen.