The Rev’d Ann J. Broomell
Christ Church, New Haven
December 24, 2015
In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
G. K. Chesterton, the famous British poet and theologian, was a brilliant man who could think deep thoughts and express them well. He was also extremely absent-minded throughout his life, so much so that he became known for getting lost. Once he even sent a telegram to his wife that said: “Honey, seems I’m lost again. Presently, I am at Market Harborough. Where ought I to be?” In a clear and precise answer, she telegraphed back a one-word reply “HOME!” (1)
At Christmastime, we often think of home. Being home for Christmas has a universal allure. When the government of Colombia wanted to mount an advertising campaign to convince FARC guerillas to leave the revolutionary army, they hired an advertising executive who planned a campaign that lasted four years focused on being home for Christmas. From 40 foot lighted Christmas trees on pathways in the jungle with signs urging people to come home for Christmas, to searchlights above individual villages calling people home, to billboards with baby photos of guerilla fighters linked with photos of their mothers saying we are waiting for you at home, the focus each year was on Christmas, light, and home. One year 5% of the total army demobilized. The campaign was very successful. FARC entered negotiations and a tentative peace has been reached. (2)
Being home for Christmas is an idea that we can hold dear in our hearts. I remember the nearly overwhelming tears that came one day when I was in my twenties. The song “I’ll be home for Christmas” had come on the radio, and I realized that all those experiences that meant home for me at Christmas would never happen again.
As happens in our lives, I realized I could never go back to the past, never have that home again. It mattered so much to me that night. I didn’t realize then that home can have many meanings in every life. That home can be many places. I didn’t realize that home is something we can know and carry in our hearts.
Often people say that Christmas is for children, and they do delight in Christmas. Let us not be fooled by that view. Christmas is for every one of us. An adult Christmas is not about what we receive, as much as it is about what we offer others. It’s not about what we can buy, but what we can give of our selves.
These gifts bring us home—not to beginnings, nor always to the destination we’d planned to reach. Our gifts lead us in the end to the state of being where we are most ourselves. Our gifts lead us to become the loving, compassionate, forgiving people God planned for us to be. At Christmas we come to the manger, to the place where the child of God lies, and, finally, we come home.
What does the word home mean to you? To me home is a place of welcome and rest. Home is where we are loved. Loved not because we are the people we would like others to see, but as we truly are. Home is where we are fully known and are still loved.
This evening we are gathered to celebrate the birth of Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God, yet born into a cave, a manger, in the lowliest of surroundings. He grew through childhood and learned his father’s trade. Yet, as an adult he left his childhood home behind. In that culture, as he left his home behind him, he left his identity behind as well.
In the Gospels we read that Jesus was a homeless preacher. We read that as he traveled from town to town preaching, healing, and teaching, he continually sought to be with God in prayer. To seek the ground of his being, to define his path, and to gain nourishment and strength. For him the place of home, the constant place of welcome and love in his life, was his relationship with God.
Janet Hathberg writes in her blog: Home for me is not a physical place, it is my state of mind, at least on my good days. Home is ease with God, trust in God’s provision, intimacy and humor. (3) We are no different from Jesus. The place of home for all of us rests in our relationship with God.
In God we are fully home. God’s love is known in the gift of Jesus, the baby, the person both God and human, born into the world. Born into the world two thousand years ago, and, with just as much power and hope, born now, born today.
We long deep within ourselves for the hope of Christmas. For the love that became human in the birth of Jesus, the Christ. We long for the promise of that love, for the presence of that love. It’s that love that lets us rest in this busy, chaotic world. It lets us be at peace in our own skins. It offers us the hope of creating change in this world—taking on injustice and risking for good.
That love which God gives to us travels in two directions. We become the person God wants us to be as we learn to love God in return. As we grow in our love of God, we become people who radiate that love. The effect of letting love flow from us is somewhat counter intuitive, though. It doesn’t mean that we necessarily feel love. As you open that place deep within yourself that is Christ, that is love, you become a channel through which that love flows. You are joined by others throughout the world. You keep the fires of love burning in the world. You offer the hope the world needs.
This may seem like an impossible role. Something that only a select few can achieve. That is not the case. The birth of Jesus wasn’t a lowering of God to human level. It was the raising of our understanding of humanity to God’s level. The gift of God’s son shows us all who we can be, all we can become.
I’m not sure we realize how much we long to be that love for all who suffer, who are alone, who wonder, where is their hope? At the depth of who we are, we long to give others these things because we know they are starving for them. Our desire is not just to be loved, but to love, not just to be forgiven, but to forgive. Our hearts hunger to be the ones who can offer home to others who long for it just as we do.
The Christmas we see advertised all around us is a time of happiness and shared laughter. Yet we know that this season, this day, can be hard for us. We carry within us images of experiences that won’t be repeated, of people we love who have been lost, whose radiating love is no longer part of our immediate experience. Yet Christ is present in the love we shared. Love in which we are finally home.
As Bishop Steven Charleston writes, This is the turning point. This is the hinge time, the moment when reality begins to change. Now is your eve, your countdown to a fresh beginning. What has happened has happened: now hope is at the door. (4)
Consider the manger. One might say that it holds common animals, straw, a simple family, an ordinary infant. In it we see God’s glory in human life. We know that this child, born on the edge of society in a difficult brutal time, is God’s hope. A child who grew to become the One in whom we see God, in whom we know God.
What an extraordinary blessing it is that even though you and I can’t travel though time to Bethlehem two thousand years ago, we can know Christ. You and I can follow Jesus and know radical welcome and love. We can be that radical welcome and love.
Where is home? Will you be home for Christmas? One answer awaits us. Home is finally found in the manger in Bethlehem, where Jesus Christ is. The place where you and I can lay our gifts, and kneel at his feet. The place where we can give our heart. And as you try with all you are to follow Jesus, to welcome and love, to heal and forgive, to serve beyond your needs, the answer becomes real and you are finally home.
1 G. K. Chesterton, "Enormous" Essayist, poet, writer posted 8/08/2008 http://www.
3 Hagberg, Janet. At River’s Edge: a spiritual journey of deepening and healing (blog)
“Are you going home for Christmas?”
4 The Rt. Rev. Steven Charleston, Choctaw posted on the Facebook page of the
Native American/Indigenous Ministries of the Episcopal Church, December 24, 2012.