Home for the Holidays

Home for the Holidays
Luke 2:1-7 Preached FCCW, December 24, 2017

We come to the last in this Advent sermon series on Finding Sacred Truths in Secular Christmas Songs.
In case you didn’t recognize that tune, it’s “There’s No Place Like Home for the Holidays.”
Those words capture one of the enduring charms of Christmas time; that sense that there really is “no place like home for the holidays” which compels us, no matter how far away we’ve roamed, to return to our roots to celebrate the season, and to experience that sense of belonging that we all yearn for.
For others, “There’s no place like home for the holidays” names more of an unfulfilled desire than a reality.
Their holiday memories bear little resemblance to any Currier and Ives portrait of the ideal Christmas celebrated under the roof of a perfect home.
The prospect of going home for the holidays is complicated for such people by unhealed wounds or ongoing strife.
They have roamed far away from home – and are content to let it remain that way. We come to the last in this Advent sermon series on Finding Sacred Truths in Secular Christmas Songs.
In case you didn’t recognize that tune, it’s “There’s No Place Like Home for the Holidays.”
Those words capture one of the enduring charms of Christmas time;
that sense that there really is “no place like home for the holidays” which compels us, no matter how far away we’ve roamed,
to return to our roots to celebrate the season, and to experience that sense of belonging that we all yearn for.
For others, “There’s no place like home for the holidays” names more of an unfulfilled desire than a reality.
Their holiday memories bear little resemblance to any Currier and Ives portrait of the ideal Christmas celebrated under the roof of a perfect home.
The prospect of going home for the holidays is complicated for such people by unhealed wounds or ongoing strife.
They have roamed far away from home – and are content to let it remain that way.
Luke’s version of the birth of Jesus is a tale of returning home, although not by choice.
The Roman Empire had ordered a census to be taken, and Joseph and his wife Mary had to travel from Nazareth where she lived, to Bethlehem, Joseph’s ancestral home.
Nazareth and Bethlehem are about 70 miles apart as the crow flies.
But on foot, the best route to travel would have been more like 100-120 miles.
If that were not bad enough, Mary was pregnant, and the journey would be made riding on a donkey over rugged terrain and rough trails.
So, the next time you resent your spouse for dragging you to the in-laws for Christmas, remember what it was like for Mary to be forced to take a trip like that in her condition!
And of course, the story goes that waiting at the other end of that difficult trek, was not a welcoming family, but instead, an insensitive innkeeper; and no vacancy at the local inn,
so that they wound up using a stable for a delivery room and a manger for a crib to hold the Son of God.
That picture of a rejected, homeless couple delivering a baby in a barn is the image of Jesus’ birth that we all have grown up with.
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But there is another, less well known interpretation of the circumstances surrounding the Savior’s birth.
One that you may never have heard about, but which is at least equally as well supported by the scriptural evidence.
In this alternative scenario, Jesus is born, not in a stable, but in the home of Joseph’s extended family living in Bethlehem.
The difference between these versions of Jesus’ birth hinges on how we interpret the word that traditionally gets translated as “the inn.”
That same word can mean, not a public place of lodging, but the guest room in a private home.
Don’t forget, Bethlehem was a place where Joseph had family. That’s why he and Mary were there in the first place.
It makes sense, both that they would have gone to relatives for a place to stay, and that those relatives would not have turned them away.
Even if that meant improvising to make room for them.
It wasn’t unusual for homes of that time to have a section of the living area used for the animals, which were kept inside at night for their warmth and protection. Which means there was a manger ​inside​ the house where those animals would eat. So, if the best that Joseph’s family could do to help him and Mary was to make room for them in the part of the house where the animals slept, that means there would have beena manger where Mary laid Jesus when he was born.
What we have then, is one way of interpreting the nativity story as the traditional tale of Mary and Joseph alone and rejected on the streets of Bethlehem.
The other is of a family making room for them.
Either one is a plausible portrayal of the Holy Family’s origin.
Either one foreshadows the way that people have either accepted Jesus into their lives, or closed the door on him.
Either one could be an accurate representation of what home for the holidays means to you.
Perhaps warm family relationships have always defined home for you.
Home is a place where you always feel welcomed, and that hospitality creates a yearning that draws you back home for the holidays at Christmas.
Maybe you have had a different kind of experience of family, and distance from that home is something you prefer to maintain.
Whichever meaning is true for you, the story of Christ’s birth is your ticket home for the holidays.
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Because the birth of Jesus is about incarnation – about God taking on our flesh and coming to dwell among us.
It is the story of Jesus leaving home in his Father’s glory and crossing the vast distance we have placed between ourselves and God, to make a home with us.
That is the meaning of “Emmanuel” – “God with us.”
Christmas is really about God’s only begotten child coming to bring all his brothers and sisters into the home where we belong.
Or, you might say, he comes to bring that home to us wherever we have roamed.
I don’t know what “home for the holidays” looks like for you.
But for those who believe, home can be found in places like this, where brothers and sisters are related, not by blood, but in spirit.
Home is wherever very different people discover kinship with one another in the name and presence of Jesus the Christ.
And whenever someone is baptized, as Lincoln was this morning, it is like a new sibling is delivered into the family of faith where room is made for them and hospitality extended to them.
As we gather here this morning, Christ is as present in this sanctuary as he was in that manger. And for that reason, we, despite our different histories – ​are​ brothers and sisters. We are a family.
So, whoever you are, no matter how far you’ve roamed– geographically or spiritually —
Welcome home.

Copyright 2017 Raymond Medeiros