Sunday, 10 December 2017

Going Home. A carol service talk from Moscow



It was Christmas eve morning and the man picked up the phone to call his son. ‘Son’, he said, ‘I’ve been married to your mother for 42 years and enough is enough. I’ve had it up to here, and I’m leaving today. I can’t talk any more about it. You tell your sister’. In panic the son picked up the phone and called his sister. She was living and working overseas. ‘Dad has just phoned to say that he is leaving mum – today’, said the son. ‘Like heck he is’, said the sister, ‘you leave this to me’. She picked up the phone and rang her dad: ‘Dad’, she said, ‘you are to go nowhere, and you are to do nothing today. I’m getting a flight this afternoon, and my brother and I will be with you tomorrow. We can talk about it then’. The man put the phone down and looked tenderly across at his wife: ‘Well dear’, he said, ‘the children are coming for Christmas, and they’re paying their own fare. What shall we do for new year?’

We have a longing for home

It is a longing for that place where we belong, that is safe and secure, where we are known and loved, and where we can love, where we can be and where we can become truly the person we were meant to be.

We may try and find that home in different ways, and much of that will depend on our own experiences of home as a child.

Some of us will look for home in a completely different place.
I guess that may be the reason why some of us are here

And often at Christmas, that longing for home is stronger
I don’t know what it is.
Maybe it is the magic of it: the candles, the lights shining in the dark nights, carols and Christmas music, feel good films or movies, memories of Christmas past, John Lewis adverts (that’s one for people from the UK), children who can’t sleep because they are so excited, the wonder .. even snow.
Finally, I can sing ‘in the bleak midwinter .. snow had fallen’ with some integrity.

Of course, the reality is very different
It is the time when those on their own can feel their isolation the most, and when those who have lost people most feel their emptiness.

And even when we get together, we know that it will not live up to what we expect – because we are human, and we are self-centred, we are driven by desires that we don’t understand and that are bigger than us, and we are messed up. And there will be the feeling that others are taking us for granted, the arguments and the disappointments.

As someone quipped, ‘Jesus said, ‘Love your enemies’, and he gave us families to practise on’.

But that still does not diminish the longing. The longing for home.

Well the message that I would like to bring this Christmas is very simple.

Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God, left his home in heaven, and he made his home here with us (‘the word became flesh and dwelt among us’).

He became an ex pat!

He didn’t do that because he was unhappy at home, or because he was bored and needed a new experience or because he wanted to prove his independence.

Far from it: the home in heaven he left really is the perfect home – it is the home where all truly belong. It is the home where each person is known and loved and is able to love. It is the home where we can be and can become truly the person we were meant to be.

But Jesus left his home in heaven and came to earth to make his home with us; and because he is the eternal Son of God, the ‘Word made flesh’, he brings a sample of that home in heaven with him. And Jesus invites us to become part of his home. And he welcomes us into his home.

Forgive a sentimental and Dickensian or Tolstoyan illustration.
It is a bit like the orphaned homeless child, looking one cold Christmas night – with deep longing - through the window of a fairy tale home, with the Christmas tree and half unwrapped presents and lights and festival food, where the family are gathered together round the open fire, and where they are at ease with each other, only to look up and realise that the father of the family is standing at the door, looking at him, with a smile on his face and arms that are open wide.

Kierkegaard tells the story of the Prince who loved a peasant girl. But he did not know how to declare his love to her. He could, as prince, demand that she become his bride, but then he would never know if she freely loved him. He could reveal his love to her as prince, but then he would never know if she loved him or if she loved more the idea of being a princess. So, in the end, he put aside his royal home and his royal robes, and he made his home in her village, living as a peasant, and he wooed her as a peasant.

It cost Jesus a great deal to live among us. He gave up the glory of heaven to be born in a cowshed. Before he was two years old, he was no different to those small children that we see on our TVs clinging to their mothers as their families flee persecution. And that is only the beginning. At the end he is betrayed, falsely accused, mocked and stripped naked, impaled on a piece of wood, with nails hammered through his wrists and feet.

Our reading says, ‘He was in the world, and the world came into being through; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own did not accept him’.

But he made his home here, and he went through that, because he created you and he loves you and he wants you to come to your real home.
‘For God so loved the world that he sent his one and only Son into the world, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life’.

Jesus came so that if you receive him you can be part of him and he can be part of you.
George MacDonald wrote, “God’s thoughts, his will, his love, his judgements are our home. To think his thoughts, to choose his will, to love his loves, to judge his judgment, and thus to know that he is in us [and we are in him], is to be at home”.

And whoever chooses to receive him, whoever listens to him and allows his word to come in and shape what they think and feel and do, and whoever permits him to make his home in them, can begin to know that sense of belonging, and that deep security which comes from knowing that we are children of God and that our true home is not in the Philippines or India or Russia or wherever, but that our true home is where he is.

I know that this can sound almost too good to be true. But that doesn’t mean it is not true. And for 2000 years men and women, girls and boys have put their trust in Jesus and they have not been let down.

And for those of you who have not received him, could I invite you to think about these things. In the new year we will be running a course for people who would like to think further – do speak to me.

And for those of you who have put your trust in Jesus, could I urge you to hold lightly to the place that you now call home, even if it is where you have lived for 3, 5, 10 or 30 years. Give thanks to God for it, work so that it becomes a place of belonging and safety and beauty and growth, and so that it becomes a place of welcome and hospitality for others. But when it comes time to leave, of course there will be sadness, but then walk away. It was never your real home: that is elsewhere.  

One of my hopes is that St Andrews might become a substitute home for all who find themselves far away from the place that they would call home, whether they have faith or no faith. And perhaps we have done that tonight. Maybe the building, the bible readings, the carols, the lights, the people here do remind us of other times and places where we have lived, of other places that were once home. But my prayer is also that they will point us forward and upwards to a different home, to our true home, which is both present and future; a home that is where Jesus is, in our hearts – if we let him in, and the home where one day he will receive us, which is the ultimate fulfilling of all our longings.

May God bless you this Christmas time, may he bless your home and may be bring you to his home.



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