There is no place like home. ~~Frank Baum, “The Wizard of Oz”
You can’t go home again. ~~Thomas C. Wolfe
Which is it?
For most of us, the idea of home has a powerful gravitational pull in our emotional life and our imagination. Home evokes deep desire that all of us share for belonging—for security.
It calls out of us a deep desire for place.
Many feel like nomads. They’ve moved so many times they don’t know where to call home. This sense of “home” is absent in our lives. I read recently that 43 million Americans move every year. That is about 16% of the population. The average American will move 14 times in their lifetime. I wonder what that transiency does to the soul.
People move, ostensibly, for work. Their job takes them to different parts of the country. Often those are choices that we make to further our careers. And for many Americans career has usurped “place” in terms of the Summum bonum of life. The ultimate value is my career. But I wonder if underneath our transience there is a deeper dynamic at work here. I think for many the narrative they live by; that keeps them packing boxes and renting U-Haul’s again and again, is that after they get where they think they will find security and significance they discover that all the places are pretty much the same.
Being exiled is one of the primary images of the Bible to depict a life being lived in separation from God. We have all been exiled east of Eden. We are estranged from our Creator. It is why we are profoundly restless. We were created to be deeply at home in God’s presence, glory and love—and we have wandered away.
All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way… Isaiah 53:6
Sheep don’t get lost because they go on a dead run away from the Shepherd, they nibble from one clump of grass to the next until they raise their little nappy head, look around, and wonder, “Where is the Shepherd? How can he be so cruel to abandon me? Where is he?”
Away from the Shepherd, they find themselves in a far country either by their own nibbling or from the circumstances of life—and they feel displaced.
Most people assume that the Bible presents a world view that mankind is primarily a rule-breaker and that Christianity is basically a set of rules to be kept and as long as you keep the rules you are in good standing with an irritated God. They think that Christianity is about a list of things that must be done and a longer list of things that must NOT be done. Sin, therefore, is rule-breaking.
If the essence of sin is rule-breaking or rule-keeping then the best Christian in my home is Bella the Wonder Dog. Because except for her pathological addiction to unguarded trash which she can’t seem to say no to, she keeps the rules better than anyone.
But the Bible teaches a much more profound and sophisticated picture of what is wrong with us in this world. It tells a story that we all were originally created to be home with God, to walk with him in the cool of the afternoon, to have an intimate fellowship with Him—but we literally nibbled our way out of His presence and hid in the underbrush and we have been homeless and homesick ever since.
We are in exile east of Eden.
“Thou hast made us for thyself, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in thee.”~~St. Augustine
Our main problem is not that we have broken a few ancient rules or modern-day social conventions, our main problem is that we were made to find our home in God and we are looking for a home in all the wrong places.
But there is good news; we could have a homecoming.
A highway shall be there,
and it shall be called the Holy Way;
the unclean shall not travel on it,
but it shall be for God’s people;
no traveler, not even fools, shall go astray.
And the ransomed of the Lord shall return,
and come to Zion with singing;
everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;
they shall obtain joy and gladness,
and sorrow and sighing shall flee away. Isaiah 35:8, 10
Historically that actually happened. When the Babylonian empire fell the Israelites were allowed to return to their homeland. But, of course, as caravan after caravan arrived on the banks of the Jordan River you know that the birds didn’t begin singing and the flowers suddenly begin to blossom again. Creation didn’t begin to dance upon their return.
Why, then, does Isaiah say this is so in such picturesque language? Because even though they had returned to their homeland—they aren’t home yet. They were home but they weren’t all the way home. They got what they wanted—but it wasn’t enough. They were still exiled from their Creator-God. That even though they were home with their land they were yet to be home with their Lord. God has something larger in mind than a change of geographic location. God pictures a day in which He would act in the world in such a way that the Universe itself would break forth in song.
Paul said the earth groans for the day when the King would return; Jesus said that the rocks, the very stones are willing and ready to shout praises to the King of Kings. Isaiah is promising that a day is coming when all that is wrong is going to be put to rights.
“Wrong will be right, when Aslan comes in sight,
At the sound of his roar, sorrows will be no more,
When he bares his teeth, winter meets its death,
And when he shakes his mane, we shall have spring again.”
― C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
We are restless, homeless, and homesick because we are exiled from God. But, in Jesus, God brings us home again.
In fact, in Jesus, God is willing to become homeless Himself in order to bring us home. Jesus is born homeless, in a rodent-infested, damp, low-ceilinged cave of a barn and placed in a common feed trough. He was displaced. And soon after His birth, the family fled to Egypt to escape the murderous Herod. Jesus lived most of his ministry without a home.
Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath no where to lay his head. Luke 9:58
…Jesus also suffered outside the city gate… Hebrews 13:12 (NRSV)
Jesus died outside of the city, away from hearth and home; away from family and friends. He died alone far away from Nazareth but even further away from Heaven. God became homeless so we could come home. Jesus became exiled so we could have a homecoming.
The House of Christmas
By G.K. Chesterton
A Child in a foul stable,
Where the beasts feed and foam;
Only where He was homeless
Are you and I at home;
We have hands that fashion and heads that know,
But our hearts we lost – how long ago!
In a place no chart nor ship can show
Under the sky’s dome.
To an open house in the evening
Home shall men come,
To an older place than Eden
And a taller town than Rome.
To the end of the way of the wandering star,
To the things that cannot be and that are,
To the place where God was homeless
And all men are at home.
We are all limping our way back home to God, you might consider joining us on the road and limp along with us. We won’t always limp. When we get home we will dance. And the joy of the Lord will be our strength.
There was so much to unpack from your sermon…Isaiah 35 will be a chapter I plan on mediating on this next year…I was most intrigued by Jesus response to John the Baptist referencing the 3 interactions with people….it would have resonated with John as an Old Testament verse, and in a special and specific way answered his question….
So warmed my heart that all your references, poems and sheep analogies lead us back to the manager…what an amazing way to tie in the totality of the GOOD NEWS…..GOD WITH US
Thank you…Cynthia Swift