Saturday, December 22, 2007

Home for Christmas

December 23, 2007 4th Sunday in Advent, Year A

Isaiah 7: 10-16. Psalm 80: 1-7, 17-19, Romans 1: 1-7, Matthew 1: 18-25

I don’t have to tell you that Christmas is nearly here. The signs are everywhere. If you haven’t already decorated your home, if you are going to you better hurry, time is running out. Tomorrow we will be scurrying here and there, buying last minute gifts, dragging out the punch bowl for visitors, or packing the car to travel home for Christmas.

When I think of Christmas, I often find myself thinking also of all the memories I have of Christmas. Maybe you do that too, think of the Christmases past, think of home, and of happy times. Well, I think that is fitting.

Between our Old Testament and our Gospel reading this morning, the prophet Isaiah has found a new home in the gospel of Matthew. It is revelation of the fulfillment of the ancient promise that Isaiah made to King Ahaz about the coming of God, King Ahaz who refused to seek any sign from God, but who received one anyway. Isaiah’s prophesy was about family, a sign that was as natural as living; a sign as natural as home.

Home. That is something that we all long for from time to time. Depending on your age, or maybe the place you are in your life, how you feel about home probably differs. As a young person, or a child, home may mean where your parents are, where you hang out with your family, do chores, eat meals, and have sleep overs. For those of us who have been out of our parents’ home for many years, we may think of home as the place we go to live, to rest, and to be at peace.

No matter who you are though, you have some kind of a feeling about home. If you are a person who did not grow up in a happy home, then you may have a deep longing for the kind of home you wish you had.

When I long for home, I am longing not for a specific place, or a particular time, or even a unique memory, but I am longing for love, the love of family.

I think for many of us that is true, our longing for home is about love. It is about being accepted for being who you are, warts and all. Home is where your parents welcome you…just because they’ve missed you. Robert Frost said, home is the place that when you must go there, they have to take you in.

Christmas is about family, love, and home. Deep within each of us is what someone once called a God-sized hole, one that we are always longing to fill. This week I watched a movie called Apocalypto, it is about the fall of the Mayan civilization as seen through the eyes of a young warrior called Jaguar Paw. Before his village is attacked and he is captured for human sacrifice, he listens to the wise elder tell a story about the fate of humankind.

The old one said, that one day the animals noticed that the humans were sad, and they wondered why. The wise old owl said, they were said because they were weak and poor. So each one of the animals came one by one to offer the humans a gift, strength from the Jaguar, keen eyesight from the eagle, agility from the monkey, and soon the humans had all the gifts the earth could give. But the animals noticed that the humans were still unhappy. Then the wise owl said, the humans are unhappy because things of the earth cannot make the human happy, even if he possesses everything.

Now this may be a fiction, but human life down through history seems to bear it out that even people from ancient pagan civilizations knew about the God-sized hole in the human heart that can not be filled with anything that is of the earth. Maybe they didn’t call the hole a God-hole, but it was something within humans that could not be filled.

I’m sure King Ahaz had such a longing. He needed a sign of God’s presence, one described by Isaiah to be as deep as sheol, or as high as heaven. Not so different are any of us from King Ahaz.

Isaiah told of a young girl who would bear a son, called Immanuel, which means God with us. It would be a sign to the Jews, a sign to the nations (all people), that God was with us. God, who is our ultimate home.

You see, God knows all about that God-sized hole in our hearts, the one that can never be filled with things of the earth. God knows because God created us. God knows about the longing, the desires we have for love, our need for being accepted, our yearning for contentment.

God who knew that no matter how hard we tried, no matter how many things we accumulated, no matter how good we were to try to be, we would be unable to fill that God-sized hole. God knew that we could not come home to God, so God came to us.

He came into the world, just as vulnerable as we are, with just as much danger from gestation, and primitive birth techniques, and subject to all the cruelties of power-crazed rulers, and harsh living as anyone had…to be at home with us.

God came so that God could fill up those big ole holes in our hearts, those holes that can only be filled by someone higher than the heavens and someone deeper than Sheol, someone not of this place, but someone of all places; someone not of this time, but someone of all time; someone not just of our hearts, but of all hearts. God came to fill us, to complete us, and to live with us always.

It is so easy to say, “peace on earth and good will to all people,” but it is so difficult to accomplish. It is difficult to accomplish because we all have not been filled. Some of us are like King Ahaz, who will not ask for God to do a thing. So we struggle still. We struggle with one another, with our possessions, with the state of our souls, so there is no peace.

There can be no peace until we are all home, and our longings are fulfilled, by God being with us, filling our hearts with love, grace and peace of the Holy Spirit.

As I conclude I want to share a Christmas memory with you. I remember the year I got my first bicycle. I think I was about 8 years old. It was a big bike for me, and I could only reach the pedals by standing up on them. I lived in the country, and we didn’t have any sidewalks to ride on, so my first ride was down through the yard.

With Momma and my little brother cheering on from the front porch, my big brothers started me off at the top of the yard with a push, one running along side part of the way down. I can still remember the sound of my pounding heart as I wobbled and jerked down through the grass, trying to keep that great two-wheeler upright.

My father stood at the bottom of the yard to catch me. I had not yet found out about braking. Every time I came down that slight hill, I headed right for the middle of the only small tree in the yard. No matter where my brothers started me out, I’d head for that tree like it was a beacon in a stormy sea.

But I never did hit the tree. Just about the time I was to smash into the tree, my dad would grab the handle bars and turn me aside. After about 20 times, I finally got the hang of bike riding.

Maybe I’m just being sentimental when I tell this story, I may have even told it to you before. What I love about this memory though, is not that it has the facts of how I learned to ride a bike, but I love this memory because it feels like home. I love this memory because it was my family who taught me how to ride that bike, they cheered me on, they laughed at me always going into the tree, and my dad was there to catch me before I fell.

When we know God and live with God in our hearts, our spirits are at home. God is there to cheer us, teach us, run along beside us, and catch us when we fall…cause…you know we fall a lot.

The thing that we long for about home is love, a soul-filling love, a God-shaped love from heaven who was born at Christmas. Jesus, God with us, Emmanuel, Jesus is that love.

© Judy Eurey 2007

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