Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | December 24, 2017

2017.12.24 Eve – “Home at Last” – Luke 2: 1 – 20

Christmas Eve Sermon
Home at Last
Pastor David L. Haley
Luke 2: 1 – 20
Christmas Eve, 2017

Christmas Eve

Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child. So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. – Luke 2: 4 -7, New King James Version

Welcome, and thank you for worshiping at Central on Christmas Eve.

Nobody knew what to expect this year, what with Christmas Eve falling on a Sunday. What this means is that some of us have already been to church once today, which for most people is plenty. Given this, we weren’t sure anyone would return for another dose this evening; it’s kind of like a doubleheader in baseball; except for worship. You may find some consolation in the fact that this won’t happen again until 2023, by which time some of us won’t have to worry about it.

Given this, I promise not to go on too long. Because when I ask people what makes a good Christmas sermon, the answer is usually, “short.” I keep in mind the story of the preacher who was in the middle of his Christmas Eve sermon, when the lights when out. When they came back on, he asked, “Now, where was I?” A voice from the back said, “Near the end.”

I have preached the Christmas story some 41 times now, and each Christmas I struggle to know what to say. Part of the reason is that at Christmas I myself am always filled with a sense of loss and longing, which I can never quite put into words. But I have come to think that what it is, is a loss and longing for home, triggered by our associations with the beloved Christmas story.

I have wonderful memories of childhood Christmases, growing up – as I did – in Kentucky. As a student, I spent many Christmases on the road trying to get home, sometimes even driving in all night, sometimes in blizzards, once even sleeping in a church when there was no room in the inn, like the Baby Jesus.

Others of us may have experienced not being able to go home for Christmas in other ways, such as being in the military. Just consider the Christmas favorite, “I’ll be home for Christmas,” sung by Bing Crosby. Written in 1943, eight years before I was born, it went to the top of the charts, propelled by all those home-sick American GI’s stuck overseas during World War II. It has remained a holiday classic, because it voices the homesickness for Christmas we still have: “I’ll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams.” When my son Chris was deployed to Al Assad Airbase in Iraq as a Marine in Christmas of 2009, he described it this way: “You have everything you could ever want there. Except your friends and family. Which is everything you could ever want.”

And, even though no longer students or military, we have all experienced life. In my case, my Mom, 87, still lives down in KY, in our “old Kentucky home.” I’ve raised four children, assembling toys after Christmas Eve services. I’ve lived in houses – sometimes for decades – and eventually took a last look inside, closed the door, and walked away. Now all my children are grown, and live around the country, and so now at Christmas, I ask myself, “Where is home anymore?” Is it where I am, where they are, or in none of those places? Is home where we make it, or is home the place where, as poet Robert Frost once put it, “When you have to go there, they have to take you in.” Given this, no wonder at Christmas, we may feel a sense of longing and loss.

I have thought about this since years ago when I read author Frederick Buechner’s account of how, on a mid-December Sunday, as a student in New York City, he went to Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church, where a man named George Buttrick was the preacher. In his sermon, Buttrick said the previous Sunday as he was leaving church, he overheard somebody asking, ”Are you going home for Christmas?” Said Buechner:

“I can almost see Buttrick with his glasses glittering in the lectern light as he peered out at all those people listening to him in that large, dim sanctuary and asked it again, ”Are you going home for Christmas?” – and asked it in some sort of way that brought tears to my eyes and made it almost unnecessary for him to move on to his answer to the question, which was that home, finally, is the manger in Bethlehem, the place where at midnight even the oxen kneel.” (Frederick Buechner, The Longing for Home)

What could he possibly mean? Obviously, not the real Bethlehem. Like some of you, I have been there, and while it is an interesting, colorful place – with Christmas ornaments hanging from the ceiling all year round – it is not a place we would call home, as – given the current political situation there – even decreasing numbers of Palestinian Christians do.

What I think Buttrick was referring to was this story and its meaning, for all of us on our journey through life. How could we not have empathy for this poor couple, essentially homeless, at one of the times in life when they most needed a safe and comfortable place for their baby to be born. At such a time, they are dependent upon the hospitality of strangers, according to Luke’s Gospel, shepherds; according to Matthew’s Gospel, visiting Magi, the Three Kings. BTW, have you heard, that under the Trump Administration, in light of the new Tax Code, the Christmas story is being revised this year such that Jesus, Mary and Joseph will have give gifts to the Three Kings, rather than receive them, as we remembered, as will all the rest of us. Because obviously, while we have enough, they don’t. After 2,000 years, we’re still waiting for the trickle-down effect. After all, who of us ever has enough gold, frankincense, or myrrh? Especially gold?

I know there are those who say we should keep this story religious and not political, by which they mean sentimental, but that sheep is already out of the barn, given the angel’s announcement to the shepherds, ““Do not be afraid; for see — I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.” By this Luke means a new Savior and Lord, as opposed to the current Savior and Lord, Caesar Augustus, who used these names for himself. So, right from the outset, everyone understood Luke was making a political statement, announcing the birth of a different Lord with a different kingdom with different values. No wonder Herod was frightened.

Regarding those values, one commentator, Carlos Rodriguez, has observed that what we learn as we read the Christmas story in the light of this year’s current cultural and political context, is that:

– Christmas is about believing what a woman said about her sex life.
– Christmas is about a family finding safety as refugees.
– Christmas is about a child in need receiving support from the wealthy.
– Christmas is about God identifying himself with the marginalized not the powerful.

After this shaky beginning, when the baby grew up, he didn’t do much better, in regard to having a home. Born in Bethlehem, he was a refugee in Egypt, raised in Nazareth, and ministered in Galilee. Other than the homes of his friends, such as Simon Peter’s house in Capernaum and Martha and Mary and Lazarus’ home in Bethany, he didn’t have one of his own. He once said, “Foxes have dens, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head” Even in death, his body was laid in a borrowed tomb, belonging to Joseph of Arimathea. The Gospel of John says it most eloquently: “He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him.” (John 1:10–11). His final home was to be with God and in our hearts.

Meanwhile, like Joseph and Mary and Jesus, we wonder through the world looking for home, from childhood home to dorm room to army base to apartment to house to condo to assisted living (if we can afford it). I have always thought the Mexican Christmas tradition of Las Posadas portrays this perfectly. Whole towns and villages take part in the procession, following one young couple honored to portray Jose and Maria through the streets, going from house to house asking for someone to take them in, to provide shelter. With the current deportations, Las Posadas has taken on an even deeper meaning: who will provide shelter to Jose and Maria? Who will take them in?

Years ago in the Guideposts Christmas Treasury there was a story about a fellow named Willie Perkins. Willie was a simple but good man; his problem was he didn’t know how to say, “No.” When all the other kids shunned somebody, Willie would be the first to play with them. When there was a fight, Willie was the first who would make peace. Perhaps it was a mistake, but Willie was who they picked to be the innkeeper in the school nativity play. You can guess where this is going . . .

When Joseph and Mary knocked on the door, Willie threw it open, and yelled: “Sorry, there is no room. Go elsewhere.” Joseph pleaded: “Please, sir, we’re so tired and weary; couldn’t you find a place for us?” There was a pause. The stage prompter, in a stage whisper, said: “No, there’s no room, go elsewhere,” which Willie finally echoed.

Arm in arm, Joseph and Mary began to walk off stage. But before they did, a voice came from behind them; it was Willie: “No, wait, come back. You can have my room.” Some thought the play was ruined; others thought it was the best nativity they had ever seen.

When we run out of options on earth, when our mortal lives come to an end, who will take us in? We believe that because of this One for whom there was no home on earth, we have a house not made with human hands, a home in the heart of God, where Christ is, where God will take us in.

In this story about a humble birth, a newborn infant who becomes a man, we learn that we are loved and accepted by God, and so we are safe, secure, alive, and challenged to live as fully as we can, and thereby at home, home at last. Amen.

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