Sermon for Sunday, January 4, 2015 || Christmas 2
I’ve lived a lot of places in my life. In my nearly thirty-two years, I’ve resided in Maine, New York, Wisconsin, Rhode Island, Alabama, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Massachusetts, and Connecticut. And I spent two summers in Texas, which I count in the total because it was summer…in Texas. For the bulk of those years, home for me was wherever my parents lived. I even had to get directions to a new home once when they moved during my junior year of college. (Let me tell you, it’s a strange experience – needing directions to your own house.) But when Leah and I got married, my definition of home changed. Now home is wherever Leah is, and more recently where Leah and the twins are. But, as with most things we hold dear, the concept of “home” is much deeper than the surface definition: “house where my family lives.”
You see, we live in a world of dislocations and disenchantments, and too often we forget where home is. We are constantly on the move from here to there or are stuck in traffic on the way from here to there. We are constantly harvesting the disappointments of a world that makes rash promises and fails to deliver. We are constantly sprinting, speeding, gorging, guzzling – but we rarely stop to catch our breath. We rarely pause to find our bearings. We rarely go home.
Few undeniable truths remain in this world, but one is this: you’ve got to know where you are to figure out where you are going. Look at any map at a rest stop or fire safety plan on the back of a hotel room door, and you will find a dot and the words “You are here.” Your destination is 60 miles down I-95. Your nearest exit in case of emergency is the stairwell at the end of the hall. These maps come in handy when you are trying to find your physical location.
But there are so many other ways to become lost, for which “You are here” stickers are nowhere to be found. You used your credit card to make your mortgage payment last month and now the Visa bill is due. Your new relationship burned fast and hot for a few months and now you are wondering if there’s anything left to fuel the fire. Your job is eroding your will to exist, but there’s nowhere else to work. I doubt any of us have to dig too deeply into his or her own soul to find a similar situation. When we are lost, retracing our steps to home will help us find ourselves again.
But only in the narrowest definition of the word is “home” a physical place. More expansively, home is where we center ourselves. Home refreshes us and reintegrates us. Home propels us to where we are going next by being the one space that assures us of where we are now. When we find ourselves “at home,” we allow ourselves the space to breath, find our bearings, and achieve the quiet stillness that nurtures new possibilities.
Speaking of home, the people of Israel have been away from theirs for a long time. They’ve been in exile in Assyria and Babylon for decades stretching into centuries. Their home is their identity, an identity they lost when they were taken by force to their conquerors’ kingdoms. They weep by the rivers and hang up their harps. They cannot sing the songs of Zion in the strange land. But in this morning’s first reading, we hear a note of hope from the prophet Jeremiah: “See, I am going to bring them from the land of the north, and gather them from the farthest parts of the earth…With consolations I will lead them back, I will let them walk by brooks of water, in a straight path in which they shall not stumble…They shall come and sing aloud on the height of Zion…I will turn their mourning into joy, I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow.”
The prophet tells of the imminent return of the people to their own lands and homes, where they will reclaim their identity and sing once again on Zion’s height. Today’s psalm would not be out of place on that long journey back to their home: “How dear to me is your dwelling, O Lord of hosts! My soul has a desire and longing for the courts of the Lord.” The psalmist sees the sparrow and swallow making nests and reflects on the happiness of those who dwell in God’s house: “For one day in your courts is better than a thousand in my own room.”
The psalmist longs to be in God’s presence. In our world of dislocations and disenchantments, some deep, inexplicable energy drives us to seek this same presence. When we pause long enough to figure out where we are, we open ourselves up for an encounter with the presence of God. This presence constantly encounters us, but we rarely tear ourselves away from our sprinting and guzzling long enough to notice. But when we do, when we accept the God-given gift of stillness in our souls and embrace the encounter with God’s presence, we will find ourselves at home. St. Augustine says, “You have made me for yourself and my heart is restless until it finds rest in you.” We find that rest when we are at home in God’s presence, which refreshes us and creates in us the space to figure out where we are going next.
The wise men in this morning’s Gospel find this presence when they follow the star to Bethlehem. They enter the home of Mary and Joseph and find the Christ child with his mother. In the presence of the infant King, they offer their gifts. Like the wise men, when we notice the signs pointing to an encounter with Christ, we too can find ourselves at home with Jesus. In that shimmering moment of encounter, God gives us the opportunity to discern the gifts we can lay at Christ’s feet. Centered and nourished by God’s presence, we then go out, use our gifts, and join in the work of building God’s home here on earth.
As we begin another new year, I encourage you to dwell on your understanding of “home.” What does it mean for you? How do you cultivate the welcome, openness, and rest that the home inspires? For those in our midst who have no home – physical or otherwise – how is God calling you to use your gifts to welcome them back home? Finally, what new ways can we at St. Mark’s make this community even more of a nurturing home for those who are new and for those who have been living here their entire lives?
When you go home today, actively heighten your awareness for Christ’s presence awaiting you there. Find your rest. Find you center. And then go out and be a beacon of that presence to those who are dislocated and disenchanted in this world. And as God will do with each of us one day, do unto them: Welcome them home.