“Welcome Home” for Christmas
I don’t know if you are likely as me to read church signs as you drive down the highway. A few years ago I noticed a whole book of them, in the country-store area at the Cracker Barrel. There must be a newsletter or an on-line resource or folks are just really quick in copying each other, because once a creative church sign goes up, it seems to go up at a lot of places at the same time.
My new favorite from this Christmas season; spotted somewhere down near Ware Shoals reads: “Are you part of the Inn group, or one of the stable few?” Get it? “Inn group,” spelled i-n-n, the inn where there is no room for Mary and Joseph. “Stable few”? There were only a few who gathered in the “stable” in order to adore the Christ Child. Maybe it loses something when you can’t read it for yourself; it surely loses a lot when someone tries to explain what it means. Sorry about that….
My all-time favorite sign message is somewhere between here and the church where I spent my first 20 Christmas eves. That might have something to do with it. My number one, all-time favorite church sign had a very simple message. It read: “Come Home for Christmas.”
At the risk of ruining another creative message, let me try to explain why this one moves me so deeply.
“Come Home for Christmas.”
The Christmas story is built upon the lack of a “home” for baby Jesus and his family. The Christmas story exposes that home is not so much a physical place as it is a place of welcome and comfort. The Christmas story invites its hearers to enter into the discussion about what it means to come home and to be at home and to have a home.
In ways more powerful than any family celebration I have ever attended, the story of this Holy Night is a story which settles our yearning for safety and security and contentment.
Where else could we come, or go, in order to be more at home, than in a place surrounded by others hearing the good news of a God who creates a home for each of us, and then comes to make his home among us?
“Come Home for Christmas.”
The phrase stuck with me. I thought of it as I listened to the music being played on my “Country Christmas” Pandora station. Particularly at night, in the evenings, as many are wrapping gifts, a huge number of the songs were about “coming home.” Many of the songs were familiar; but I can’t remember the words of them all. It is okay for me to admit that I sometimes have difficulty remembering the second verse of “Oh Come, All Ye Faithful,” but I can sing right along without hesitation to Rascal Flatts’ rendition of “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.” Might the same be said for some of you?
“Home.” Being at home. Going home. This hope, this promise, this is the desire is just below the surface of practically every conversation had during this time of year. There are few gifts considered as precious as the simple gift of “coming home.”
I had most of last week off, as vacation. Today was my first real day back. I should have kept a count at this morning’s worship service of how many folks asked me if I had gone “home” last weekend. I did get up to North Carolina, but that isn’t why I mention it here. Rather, it is to point out that I have lived in Clemson longer than I ever lived in Vale. So why, when you who also live here ask me if I will travel to North Carolina, do you ask me if I am going to make it “home”? Isn’t this my “home”? Isn’t this “home” for both of us?
“Come home for Christmas.”
Or course it isn’t the “place” which beckons us – it is something else. It is the returning to or going to that place where the shoes come off and the collar is loosened and the hair comes down and we experience what it means to be loved and appreciated and accepted and cared for and protected.
That place is the place we all desire to be and long to be. It is the place we go to and return to and come to.
My hope for you, for all of us, as we sit together on this Christmas Eve, in this house of worship is that you are gifted with that same feeling of being were the shoes can come off, the tie loosened, and the anxiety level reduced. My prayer is that each of you feel the relief associated with being “home.”
This is the hope and the gift for each of you. Whether you are a regular attendee at the Sunday services offered in this place; whether you are an adult who came here with your parents when you were a child; whether you are a traveler, holed up in a hotel room or camper; whether you are a local who wanted to be at home tonight even if these buildings and their occupants have failed to make you feel at home during the previous fifty-two weeks; whatever your status before you came through those doors – you are at home now. And the owner of this house is committed to making your homecoming all that you desire it to be.
Mary and Joseph were at home on this evening, in Bethlehem. They were at home with their son. Their home included shepherds sent their way by angels singing in the heavens. Mary and Joseph found out that evening what home really means. And ever since we have known that we can come home or return home or be at home in any one of the millions of places where the story of Jesus’ birth is retold.
What a joy. What a delight. What a gift.