A Christmas Eve Sermon from Southminster Presbyterian Church in Boise, Idaho
Dec 24, 2016
For the first time, one of our ducklings won’t be in the nest at Christmas. Alden is finishing up his semester abroad and is doing a little traveling, 93 million miles away from home, before he comes back later this week. And it was my idea, so I have nobody to blame but myself. This year he’s experiencing Christmas in London with the family of a good friend of mine from college. And seeing his favorite Welsh soccer team play on Boxing Day.
Adventures. You’re only young once. Yada. Yada. Yada.
It’s got me thinking about what it means to be home, though.
As a little kid, if you had asked me where “home” was, I would have said “2217 Manito Blvd” and given you the address to an actual building, where my family lived.
In fact, my parents report that any night when I was not sleeping at home, because we were traveling, or at the lake, I would cry myself to sleep, repeating, “I want to go home to my home on Manito Blvd”.
I managed to get over that by the time I left home to go to college at least.
My parents still live on Manito Blvd, and there is something so familiar and comfortable about going ‘home’ to that house. There’s also something sort of confining about it, if I’m honest. Seeped into those walls is a sense of who I was as a child that doesn’t really fit my experience of myself now, as an adult. It’s like putting on a favorite, old, comfortable sweater and realizing it doesn’t quite fit anymore and it isn’t as stylish as it was in 1983.
As I’ve grown, though, my understanding of ‘home’ has expanded. It’s not as much about a physical address anymore. It’s about where my people are.
I think about this at the holidays when one of my people won’t be at home, and I’m noting the tension between wanting everyone safe and sound under my roof and also recognizing that much of life happens once you leave home. If we never left the places we lived, what kind of adventures would we have? Think of all the people we’d never meet.
Home can be an actual building, or it can be an identity. It can be a place of safety, which is an understandable desire in times of uncertainty and fear. Home can also be a place of exclusion, a gated fortress where four walls keep out people who are ‘different’ than we are.
The idea of “home” is a great concept, and I will remain grateful for all of the moments when my people are safe and sound, under one roof.
I also am aware of how much richer my life is because of the way my understanding of home has expanded. Because if the only people in whom I’m invested are the people who live at the same address I live, then my world is very small indeed.
Who do we invite into our homes? Who are the people for whom we find “room in the inn”?
Watch this video about a little girl named Nora who made room in her home and her heart for a stranger she met at a grocery store.
As much as I love this video, it makes me wonder how I would have responded had the 4 year old versions of my kids wanted to hug an “old person” they didn’t know in a grocery store. Even if I let that publicly supervised hug take place, would I have taken them to their new friend’s home?
My kids knew plenty of “old persons”, but they were people I knew first. People from church. Neighbors.
I’m humbled to think about the love that has been shared because Nora’s mom was willing to expand her understanding of “home”.
Jesus was not born in his home, not even in a home. His parents were on the road, dislocated because of a political situation beyond their control. I’m quite certain Mary would have preferred having her friends with her when she gave birth, instead of cows, chickens, shepherds, and crowds of other people displaced on the roads because of Herod.
I wonder if Jesus was born “on the road” because God wants us to challenge the way we limit what “home” means for us. “Home” can’t be contained to a particular building.
Or to one group of people, or religious affiliation, or skin color, or sexual identity.
By being born “on the road”, as it were, outside the walls of a home, Jesus won’t be contained. Whenever we try to lay too heavy a claim, an ownership, on Jesus, he reminds us he was born in a barn, born to remind us that home is where our people are, and born to ever expand our understanding of who is included in “our people”.
Later in Luke’s gospel, 9:57-58, this somewhat odd conversation takes place: “As they were going along the road, someone said to Jesus, ‘I will follow you wherever you go.’
When Jesus answers the man’s question, by not answering his question, Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”
I hear echoes of “there was no room for them in the inn” when I hear Jesus’ answer. And when I connect it to that Christmas night in Bethlehem, I also understand how “the son of man has nowhere to lay his head” is an answer to “I will follow you wherever you go, Jesus”.
If you follow me wherever I go, he says, you will give up claims on having one place to call home.
If you follow me wherever I go, you will give up claims on having one small group of people to claim as yours.
If you follow me wherever I go, you will have to step into the messy middle of the political situations of the day, standing up to Herod, welcoming refugees who are on the road through no choice of their own, and seeing who you can make room for in the Inn of your life, home, and heart. It just might be God, seeking shelter, looking for a place to lay his head.
As you go out into this winter wonderland, enjoy your time at home with the ones you love. As we prepare for a new year, though, I invite you to consider who else God might be preparing you to invite into your understanding of “home”.
May the child born in a stable inspire us to open our doors, and build bigger tables instead of taller fences so we can all be “home” for the holidays.
Amen. Merry Christmas.