The Word This Weekend - January 6, 2019

The Word This Weekend – January 6, 2019

“I’ll Be Home”

The Rev. Dr. William L. Hurst

FLCS Senior Pastor


When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about."  (Luke 2:15)

Dear Companions,

Grace and Peace be with you, as we continue on in the great Season of the Incarnation – you know, the Twelve Days of Christmas, and the Epiphany of our Lord on January 6th. Even as the wrapping paper is bunched and bagged, and the store shelves are switched from “Ho Ho Ho” to “Happy Valentine’s Day,” the Jesus Community continues to journey from cradle to Magi, remembering the sights and sounds of Emmanuel and his entrance into our human story.

So, before the Nativity time completely passes from view, one more song of the season:

I'll be home for Christmas
You can count on me
Please have snow and mistletoe
And presents on the tree

Christmas Eve will find me
Where the love light gleams
I'll be home for Christmas
If only in my dreams

In 1943, "I'll Be Home for Christmas" became one of America's most popular homegrown holiday songs. First recorded by crooner Bing Crosby, "I'll Be Home for Christmas" shot to the top of the record charts and has been a perennial holiday staple ever since. It immediately touched a tender place in the hearts of Americans at home and overseas, living in the anxious days of World War II. It became the most requested song at Christmas USO shows in both the European and Pacific theatres. Yank, the 40’s era GI magazine said that “Der Bingle’s” rendition accomplished more for the troops’ morale than anything else in those days of war and worry.

I read that in December 1965, as astronauts Frank Borman and James Lovell were hurtling back to earth aboard their Gemini 7 spacecraft, they were asked by NASA personnel if they wanted any particular music piped up to them in space. They responded, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.” 

Perhaps you’ve seen signs in the weeks before Christmas Eve, saying, “Come Home for Christmas!” I love that theme, because both the song and its sentiment touches a nerve in me every time I hear it, and has ever since childhood. Why is that, I wonder? Is it the images it conjures: winter wonderland, family hearth, the lights and scents and warmth of scores of remembered Christmases? Many of us have a shared pool of such memories, and for my generation they’re often influenced by Madison Avenue as much as with Clement Moore or Ebenezer Scrooge. Santa in the twilight of our living room, gobbling Mom’s cookies and knocking back a Coke; Rudolph the reindeer on the Island of Misfit Toys, with Santa sledding downhill on a Norelco shaver; Mary and Joseph and the Little Drummer Boy, melding the angels’ song with a steady “Ba Rumpa Bum Bum.”

Still, there’s got to be something more to this than just nostalgia -- something deeper, truer, something beyond fond remembrance or sharp regret; something that arrests the Humbug-Scrooge in me and sets me yearning for the center of what Christmas promises.

Like the song, I long to be HOME. HOME for Christmas.

And, oddly enough, that’s just where the Word of God meets us, along the dark streets and fearful wonder of a Palestinian village a world away and 2000 years distant. Listen to the words again:

In those days Caesar Augustus issued an imperial decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. Everyone was instructed to travel to their hometowns to register. Joseph also went from Nazareth in the region of Galilee, and traveled south to the region of Judea, to Bethlehem, the city of David, because he belonged to the house and lineage of David. He went there together with Mary, pledged to be married to him, and expecting a child any day.

Think about it for a moment: A town full of strangers. Practically no one is home; everyone is a traveler or wanderer. Dislocated by imperial decree and economic policy, everyone in town is from somewhere else.

They move from alley to alley, this holy family bound by earthly demands and a heavenly promise: searching in vain for a place to rest, a worthy place to begin the hard, hard night of childbirth. In the best of times childbirth is a harrowing enterprise, and this night will lack the presence of friends and family, of experienced hands and familiar voices. Alone in a place where no one knows anyone, a town where no one is home.


These young wanderers are as homeless as everyone else on this strangest of nights. They are as trapped as every soul that first Christmas night: forced to travel at the worst of all possible times, trapped in the pincers of an Empire’s craving for revenue and power, locked into a set of circumstances beyond their control and way beyond their understanding. Armed only with a Promise:

While they were in Bethlehem the time came for the baby’s birth, and Mary delivered her firstborn, a son. She wrapped the infant in swaddling clothes, and placed him in the stable’s manger, a wooden feeding trough for livestock, because no proper room was available for them in the village inn.

Her first delivery – ever – and she birthed a son. With a terrified husband as midwife, with a stable full of beasts as witnesses, in the midst of a world of strangers, the World’s Hope breathes into the darkness, and the One who is sovereign over every Caesar, every system, makes an anonymous entry into a world of homeless wanderers.

And we are wanderers no less this Christmastide, homeless no less than they. Some of us are far away on fields of blood. We think of them, we pray for them, with Isaiah’s ancient prophecy ringing in our ears:

Every soldier's weary boots, every blood-soaked garment

 will have no use but for warmth, burned as fuel for the fire.

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is granted,
and he will govern, he will rule.
His Name will be Wonderful One, Sage Counselor,

 Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Peace. Peace at home and peace far away. Peace in our families and communities, in our workplaces and lodgings, among the nations and in our society. Breathing into the darkness of the stable is this Child of promise and portent, readying himself even now to move from a birth under imperial edict to a death under imperial condemnation. Growing from the Infant in the Manger to the King upon the Cross, the Prince of Peace readies himself to engage in single combat with incarnate evil, to win for God a world of homeless, restless hearts.

He comes to bring us home, to be our Home. He comes knowing that, far away or near to our earthly birthplaces, all of us are prodigal daughters and sons: restless, yearning, wandering hearts. Our hearts are restless, homeless indeed, until they find their rest, their home, in Him.

His peace; His home. Not some fanciful field of dreams, some nostaligic escape to the “good old days” of remembered childhoods or false earthly security. This peace will not be won with bombs or rhetoric or illusory safety. It can’t be bought with money, or negotiated with this world’s Caesars of power, hatred or intolerance. And it refuses to masquerade as a civil religion which demands that God’s law be etched on marble altars but refuses to be commended to our memories or etched humbly upon our hearts, our deeds, our neighborhoods and our hopes.

The Savior’s Home is a house of life, purchased with the Savior’s death. It is a hope-filled home built by the Carpenter’s Son, who stretches his loving arms upon the beam of Calvary, breathing his last on the scaffold even as he breathed at first in the hay of a borrowed stable nursery. It is a Home that is ours whether near or far, whether surrounded by loved ones or entirely alone. It is a home like the one the shepherds entered that night, armed only with an angels’ promise: restless souls in the presence of the manger-child, homeless hearts in the holy shrine of their God.

So we end where we began this Christmas, beloved in Christ: a people with a song. The song of angels and saints, the melody of faith and lyrics of the Gospel, which

…teaches us to say "No" to ungodliness and worldly passions, to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself to redeem us from all wickedness, to purify for himself a people of his very own, eager to do good. (Titus 2)

The modern song sounds a bit different, doesn’t it?

Christmas Eve will find me
Where the love light gleams
I'll be home for Christmas
If only in my dreams

This Christmas I say to you that we’re already Home. Home in Christ. Home forever. Home for good. Not in our dreams, but by the gleaming love of a God beyond all our failures and all our hopes. So may our hearts, restless and homeless – may they find their endless rest, their Christmas Home, in Thee!

Blessed Christmas, my friends, in the Name of the Child called Hope, the “this” you’ve got to see, and, by grace, the “this” we’ve got to find the voice and the courage to speak to our world and our circumstance. As did the shepherds long ago, so too must we. This Christmas, this year, and for as long as the Spirit gives us breath and capacity. May we seek it, see it, and speak it. Amen!



With You in God’s Good Work,
Bill Hurst

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