Scripture Reading: Isaiah 52:7-10, 62:10-12; Revelation 21:3
John 1: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. And the Word became flesh and made his home among us, and we have seen his glory.
After a long season of waiting, Christmas is finally here! During these twelve days of Christmas, many will gather with family and friends, exchanging gifts, sharing food, and spending precious time together.
In their annual report, AAA forecasts that one-third of Americans will travel this holiday season. That’s 112.5 million of us clogging the nation’s roads and runways. Mallory and I will join in the procession, visiting our families and spending time just being with those we love for a few days.
Christmas is a season of going home, remembering who we are and who our God is.
Yet, all this travel betrays the fact that we can’t actually go home. Sure, the home where we grew up may still be standing. Many of our family members are still around to share life with. But others have gone to eternal glory. My Christmas travels no longer include the treks to my grandparents houses because they have gone to their eternal homes. I can’t go back to the physical homes where I celebrated Christmas with family during my childhood because other people live in those houses now.
At another level, we can never really go home because we have changed. We’re different people now then we were even last year. The places have changed even if we have gone nowhere. In the current of time, we can only go forward, never backwards.
None of us are alone in this struggle with the vanishing past. Many have it worse. I think of a pastor’s family in our conference whose parsonage burnt down around Thanksgiving. I think of migrants fleeing their homes because of war or famine, never to spend another Christmas there again.
The old Bon Jovi and Jennifer Nettles song is nonsense. “Who says you can’t go home? Who says you can’t go back?” Have you ever tried it, Bon Jovi? Let me know when you figure out time travel. None of us can really go back home.
Some of us are gathered here in this church today for Christmas because we can’t go home for one reason or another. The people are no longer with us. We can’t travel. So, this church becomes a surrogate family. This place becomes our home. These people become our family.
Yet, even this home is temporary. It won’t be here forever. It changes year by year. There will be a time when no one gathers to worship in this holy place. This home, this community is but a moment in God’s great cosmic drama.
The book of Isaiah tells us about the homecoming of God’s people to Jerusalem. To those who were in exile from the safety and security of their homes in the Old Testament, Isaiah declared “break forth together into singing, you ruins of Jerusalem; for the Lord has comforted his people, he has redeemed Jerusalem.”
The people of God who had been through war and exile would return to the ruins of their home and rebuild. Things would never be the same as they were, but God would provide. Isaiah declared good news of a way to return home, “Go through the gates, prepare the way for the people; build up the highway, clear it of stones, lift up an ensign over the peoples.”
God promised a home of safety and prosperity on earth for the people had been without one for so long. God promised that God would be with them in that place, that God’s glory owuld fill his temple.
Yet, if we know anything about the history of God’s people Israel, we know that even that home was temporary. They would again be ruled by foreign powers. Their home of peace and security would not last. Earthly security is always temporary.
The Scriptures tell us what we know from experience: no matter how powerful our memories of the past are or how much promise lies ahead of us, we can never go back home. Our homes of peace and security are temporary. The moments we share should be cherished and never be taken for granted.
The question we come to church to answer is what does God do about this? We know the problems of life full well, we don’t just need another reminder of the precious and fragile nature of our lives.
We find the promise of God’s homecoming in what might not obviously be a Christmas text to us: Revelation 21.
You’ve heard it before, no doubt. John sees a new heaven and earth, just as Isaiah had seen a new Jerusalem. In a promise that we place within God’s final plan for the world, we hear “see, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more. Mourning and crying and pain will cease, for the first things have passed away.”
We often reflect on those promises at funerals. It’s a reminder to us that God will finish the work God has done. But this promise is also a reminder of something that God has already accomplished.
Sure, we still live in a temporal world filled with tears, death, mourning, crying, and pain. We know all about those things and we can’t pretend that we don’t, even on Christmas.
Yet, the good news of today and every day since the day Christ was born is that God has made a home among mortals. God does dwell with us as our God. We are God’s people. God is with us!
The promise may not be fulfilled in fullness yet, but God has put a pretty substantial down payment on the promise.
As John 1 tells us, the Word that was in the beginning with God has become flesh and has made his home among us. And we have seen his glory.
We can’t go home again. The past cannot be revisited except in our memories. But the future of God’s work to make all things new has broken through into our lives.
God has made a home among us. We have seen his glory.
Through Jesus, God has come into our homes, into this Eldersville community. God has inhabited our struggles and prepared our way to a place where all will be well.
We can’t go back home, but someday we will go forward to the home that Jesus is preparing for us. There will be newness all around. New heavens! New earth! A new dwelling place where God is never absent from us.
Until that time, we live under the fulfilled promise of Christmas. God has made a home among us through the waters of birth so that we, by the waters of baptism, might be home with God wherever we are.
All because, two thousand years ago, Mary said yes to God, and while she and Joseph were traveling to Bethlehem, “the time came for Mary to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no other place for them.”
God has made a home among us that we might never be far from home. As Paul proclaims in Romans, “I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord,” the one who has made a home among us. Amen.