Welcome Home! It has been good to hear that today after our time away of late. It is good to be home at Christmas. Today and over the coming weeks, that will indeed be our theme as we consider just where and what does it mean to be Home for Christmas. In some ways, home may be our ancestral home, where we grew up and where family may still reside. My ancestral home was on 403 Marshall Street where mom and dad, Earl and Gertrude and I would wait for Faye to arrive from Kansas City, Mike to finally arrive from New Orleans and Amber to come from nearby Auburn. Our custom was simple. Open the presents and then eat. Brian shared a bit about his ancestral home at Christmas in Canada and today we sing the songs that originated in North America. In the coming weeks of Advent, we do the same with carols from Ireland, England and Germany, hoping to rekindle what it meant at one time to be Home for Christmas if indeed you grew up in those places. But 403 Marshall Street ceased to be my ancestral home almost 50 years ago as well as the several places that we have lived since. Home for Christmas may not necessarily be about the place of our birth or where we currently live.
The world was a dark and scary place on the first Advent when a young, engaged couple left their home hoping her pregnancy would not come due while they were homeless. That indeed happened and they were forced to impose upon the exasperated innkeeper for a spot in his stable, since all the Queen size deluxe were already taken. Then later they fled for their lives when the Emperor signed a death warrant for their son, forcing them once again to be homeless and move abroad.
Brueggemann, Walter, theology professor, preacher and author of an Advent devotional guide, Celebrating Abundance writes,
It is written and it is believed and it is lived, that the world is a hostile, destructive place. Be on guard and maintain whatever advantage you can. It is written and recited like a mantra. In the middle of that hopelessness, Advent issues a vision of another day, written by the poet. We do not know when, but we know for sure. The poet knows for sure that dying and killing are not forever, because another word has been spoken. Another decision has been made. A word has been given that bursts open the prospect for life in a world of death. Isaiah’s city is full of blacksmiths who have much work to do. He says, “Listen and you can hear the hammer on the anvil. The smiths are beating and pounding iron, reshaping it, beating swords into plowshares and spears into tools for orchards. They are decontaminating bombs and defusing the great weapons systems. The fear is dissipating. The hate is collapsing. Their anxiety is lessening. This vision sounds impossible. It sounded impossible the first time it was uttered; it has not become more realistic in the meantime. Advent, nonetheless, is a time for a new reality. There is a new possibility now among us, rooted in God’s love and God’s suffering power. Power from God’s love breaks the vicious cycles.
Advent assures that we are God’s people and that this story of our lives and our world is God’s story. We live between the time of life and death and to live there is to trust and hope that life must not be on collision course with fear and death, but instead constantly moving toward hope. Both Isaiah and Matthew describe hope but cast it in the confusing language of the future. Isaiah tells of a vision in which people stream toward a holy mountain which is their ancestral home much like 403 Marshall Street was for the Coggins. This holy mountain is where God gave direction and instruction. It implies a place of safety where weapons are not only laid aside but recast into something useful such as work tools. Finally, we will be at a place and a time when life will not be cast in “us” vs. “them” terms. Thanks be to God. Isaiah’s vision calls us to “walk in God’s light.” Advent reminds us of a future held securely in God’s hands and a move away from lives of conflict and division. Instead, one step at a time, we move closer to God making His Home within us. At St. Louis University, a Jesuit chapel is lit with light fixtures made of 20th century canon shells, emptied of their lethal contents and now hold light by which people can be led to pray beneath. We move toward the light described that first Advent that happened in a world of darkness, but neither that world or our own has never in all of its attempts been able to dim God’s light.
The Matthew scripture continues the future tense theme of Isaiah but in the oft confusing language of apocalyptic end times. Why now, in this season of carols and candles? We live in a day of an unknown future. Uncertainty characterizes our lives and we often find ourselves confused and fearful. Matthew’s words to us this morning assure us that uncertainty even characterizes Biblical faith. We would rather not speak or think about a day of judgement but these words to us this Advent season encourages our realization that we live between life and death, and that these times belong to God. As we, in trust, open our lives to a future set in hope with God’s vision for us and our world. Advent invites us to come to grips with God’s claim upon us here and now, to develop the art of Watchful Living. Rohr, Richard. Preparing for Christmas: Daily Meditations for Advent, writes “Come, Lord Jesus,” is an Advent mantra, and means that all of Christian history has to live out of a kind of deliberate emptiness, a kind of chosen non-fulfillment. Perfect fullness is always to come, but we do not need to demand it now. This keeps the field of life wide open and especially open to grace and to a future created by God rather than us.
Home for Christmas means that I will be nowhere near 403 Marshall Street, will not see mom who has no awareness that it is the season of Advent or remember our Christmases long ago. Home for Christmas means that we can relax into the waiting uncertainty of life and home, confident that one step at a time, we are moving toward hope, not as we define it but as God does. What Christians believe is that there is one who is coming to make the world right. We believe that God has not given up on God’s hope for the world and God’s promise to make the whole safe and peaceable as we illuminate the light of God’s Presence within and around us. We believe that this One has already come to make all things new and good and safe and whole. Christians have watched Jesus, and we have seen his work: We have listened to his teaching and noticed his wisdom. We have noticed his attentiveness to the needs of the poor and the lame and the blind. We have watched as he gives new life where none seemed possible. When we believe in hope, then we act hopefully and when we act hopefully, we live with peace. May it be so in us
God of love and suffering power, speak again your word of transformation in the midst of our weary world. We so easily capitulate to despair, to numb acceptance of death and division. Break the vicious cycles, and restore in us once again a passion for the possible. Amen.