Riverside United

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Homecoming (Where We Belong pt. 3)

Preacher: Rev. David Exley, 

A few years after I moved out on my own I can remember going home for a few days at Christmas. I stayed with my parents and had the typical holiday homecoming experience. After a few days and nights with family and friends back home, I travelled back to where I had been living—a house that sat in the middle of a 23 acre property on Lake Erie… a piece of property that operated as a children’s camp during the summer months. 

It took me about an hour to drive back home that day. The final stretch of the commute consisted of driving down a long dirt road that ran between two farmer’s fields. On normal days, it was a fairly peaceful little trip down the road that eventually led to the camp house. However, the day that I travelled back to the house came just a few days after a fairly significant snowstorm. And so, when I finally made it to the final turn of the trip, I suddenly realized that I wasn’t going to be able to get home as I expected. The road was covered in snow—about two-feet, to be precise, packed on it from beginning to end. 

I pulled over to the side of the road, put the car in park, and thought about what I should do. It was pre-cellphone time (most people didn’t yet have them) so my options were limited. I wasn’t prepared to do the twenty minute walk down that snow-packed road and the remaining daylight hours were limited. So, I did what made the most sense—I put the car back in drive, turned around and began the trek back to my childhood home. 

Up to this point in my life I had been fortunate enough to never really experience the loss of home—to be displaced as a result of circumstances out of my control. And so, for the first time in my life, I had this interesting moment where I wasn’t sure where I would call home. 

We’ve ALL had those moments in life. Moments when the road is blocked and you’re trying to find home. Forces that we have no control over sometimes stand in the way between US and WHERE WE WANT TO GO.  And, this seems to be a common experience. 

The Bible is filled to the brim with stories of people being displaced—people either leaving their home or losing their home. Think of Adam and Eve, Noah and his family, The Israelites—living in exile, the Apostle Paul, and, of course, Mary and Joseph and the young baby Jesus. 

As we step back and look at the larger story, it’s almost as if that is the whole story. —it’s a story about losing home… and finding home.

The backdrop of the passage we heard from Isaiah 61 this morning has to do with the loss of home and the search for home. 

As the prophet writes these words, there seems to be hope for the future. While the Israelites are still without a sense of home, there seems to be a light at the end of the tunnel. Scholars refer to this section of the lengthy Book of Isaiah as “Third Isaiah”. The book appears to be written over three periods, with this section of the text occupying the third and final period. During that time, the Babylonians (the ones who had taken over the promised land and forced the followers of Yahweh out) have been defeated and the land is under the control by the Persians. It’s during this time that the exiled Israelites are allowed to return to the land they once called home. Restoration and renewal seems to be on the horizon. 

And so, when the prophet says, God “has sent me… to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour”, you can imagine the people (a once traumatized people) beginning to see the light shining in the darkness. “Home” is once again a possibility for them. 

The prophet uses words like, “rebuild”, “restore” and “renew”. These words have meaning for the people. And, they certainly have meaning for us today. 

This pandemic year has been filled with roadblocks. It’s been a time that, ironically enough, we’ve felt like we’ve been blocked from “going home”… even though we’ve been stuck AT HOME. We too could use a year of “the Lord’s favour”. We too could use a time of rebuilding, a time of restoration, and a time of renewal… for our world seems broken… our sense of home is lost. 

Who could have imagined a time such as this? A time with closed borders, hospital outbreaks and quarantines, workers being laid-off in record numbers… a time of separation from our family and our friends—not to mention the thousands of people dying each and everyday from COVID-19. 

There is an ache within many of us… an ache to return to that safe and comfortable place that we once knew. 

The great American poet, Maya Angelou, spoke about this. She once wrote: “The ache for home lives in all of us. The safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.”

This ache for “home” is something that exists within all of us. WE, like the Israelites before us, long for that place where God is present… where goodness is present. We long for that safe place where we are loved. 

In response to the ache he sees within his people, Isaiah writes:
He has sent me
    to bring good news to the poor,
    to bind up the brokenhearted,
    to proclaim release for captives,
        and liberation for prisoners,
    to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour
        and a day of vindication for our God,
    to comfort all who mourn.

These are the same words speaks at the beginning of his ministry (according to the gospel of Luke). These words remind us who God is. God is a God who longs to bring good news to the poor, to bind up the brokenhearted… to comfort all who mourn.

These words also remind us of what the church is called to be; What we as individuals are called to be as we work together to make God’s dream of home possible, not just for us but for all creation. 

Imagine God whispering into your ear and telling you to speak these words: “God’s Spirit is upon me… God has anointed me.” And, to do what? To bring good news to the poor, to bind up the brokenhearted, to bring liberation… to bring comfort to all people… to give them a crown in place of ashes… oil of joy in place of mourning… a mantle of praise in place of discouragement.”

This is what God calls the Christ child to deliver through his life and his ministry… and it’s what we’re called to do as members of the Body of Christ (those who carry out his mission in the world). 

It’s easy to get off track from that work. It’s easy to let the sorrows (the pain) of this world drag us away from that place where we work together to accomplish God’s dream. We all—at some point or another—find ourselves wounded and unable to work together for that common purpose.

The great Brazilian writer, Paulo Coelho, once offered this important advice. He wrote: “Don’t allow your wounds to turn you into a person you are not.” 

This season of Advent is a season where we can acknowledge our wounds. It’s a season where we are invited to look up from where we are (a place that is often far from where God calls us to be) and follow that star that we lead us back home. Advent is a season that calls us back to that home where we can do that work that God longs for us to do. 

“I read a beautiful little Christmas story this week, a story about a Presbyterian church in York County, Pennsylvania. The minister has decided to introduce this year the Mexican tradition of La Posadas. That term, La Posadas, means “the shelter,” and this particular tradition reenacts the journey of Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem, as they sought a place to rest so that Mary’s baby could be born. The minister decided to help the congregation understand La Posadas by taking the porcelain baby Jesus that always rests in the church crèche and placing it in a box with prayers and Advent readings. The prayers, the readings, and the baby Jesus were then sent on their way from here to there, so that by the time of the Christmas Eve service, that baby Jesus will have been in every single home in the congregation.”*

I love this idea. For Christ is the one who knocks on our door each Christmas season to see if we will make room for him. He is the one who longs to partner with us in that work of bringing good news to the poor… of binding up the brokenhearted. He is the one who longs to rebuild, restore, and renew. He is the one who longs to make a home for all of us. 

HOME IS NOT THAT PLACE AT THE END OF THE SNOWY DRIVEWAY… HOME IS THE PLACE THAT GOD IS PREPARING FOR US.

As followers in the way of Christ, it’s like we’re on a journey this Advent season where we witness the Holy Family being displaced—losing their home. Our job is simply to pull out the shovels and clear the pathway for God—to clear the way so that God’s words of hope might arrive at every doorstep of all humankind. That the bells of peace, justice, and mercy ring out for all to hear. 

God’s roadway may be blocked today… but we can work together to clear that path and make way for the God of love to arrive and bring the kind of change our world so desperately needs. Amen.

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