(Sermon for January 4, 2009 || Christmas 2, RCL)
In the 1991 movie Hook, the nefarious captain who lends his name to the film abducts Peter Pan’s children and brings them to Neverland. Once there, the pirate attempts to condition Jack and Maggie into thinking that their parents don’t care about them and that they are better off away from home. Maggie resists Hook from the start, but Jack, who is angry at his father for always missing Jack’s baseball games, falls victim to Hook’s indoctrination. To show his feigned appreciation for Jack, Hook organizes a ballgame. When Jack comes up to bat, it becomes apparent that none of the pirates knows a thing about the sport. Instead of cheering for Jack to hit a home run, the crowd mixes up the words and chants “Run home, Jack! Run home, Jack!” For an instant, Hook’s spell is broken, and Jack remembers who he is and where he belongs.
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 140 miles up I-81. 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 none of us has 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. Do you remember that old keyboard tutor, Mavis Beacon? She teaches you to type by keeping your fingers on the middle row of keys, the “home keys.” With your fingers on A-S-D-F-J-K-L-semicolon, you always have a reference point for finding the rest of the alphabet. Your left index finger knows to go up for “R” and “T” and right for “G.” You don’t have to look at the keyboard with your fingers centered on the home keys. 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.
The people of Israel have been in exile in Assyria and Babylon for a long time – 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 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 go out, use our gifts, and join in the work of building God’s home here on earth.
So run home, Jack. Run home and find Jesus Christ awaiting you there. Run home to God’s presence and find your rest. Come and sing aloud on the height of Zion. Let your heart and your flesh rejoice in the living God. Encounter that one day in the courts of the Lord that is better than a thousand elsewhere.