Home is where the heart is

I want us all to take a moment, and look at the Nativity scene, those beautiful figures we have there. It isn’t historically accurate, but it certainly is beautiful. Now, I want us to REALLY look at it. Don’t take the details for granted, as something that you have seen a hundred times before, and the story you have heard a hundred times before. I want you to look at it.

The baby lies in a manger. He was born amongst animals, in a stable. Now whether you believe that stable was a cave in the hillside, or a separate building in an inn, or even in the house of a relative whose guest room had already been taken (which is, by the way, based on the Jewish traditions of hospitality and an alternate but probable reading of the Greek word for “inn”), the baby wasn’t born at home, no matter which way you look at it. He was born in the most rude and lowly of places, and in a situation that no one would want for their own child.

The baby was born in Bethlehem. That wasn’t home. Home for Joseph and Mary was in Nazareth. It’s where they grew up; where Joseph had set up his business. It’s where all their friends and closest relatives were. People didn’t leave their home towns very often, any more than so many of us don’t leave here – at least, not permanently.

Since coming here, in the last three years, I have seen twenty-somethings moving back here – because it is a good place to raise a family. A safe place. A place where family and church are close by, and a support network is present to help with some of the things that life throws at us. And this is how it should be. God meant us to be in community, and a close-knit one is capable of so much more joy and support than the often spread out and “independent” ones that we model today.

But to get back to the story. Mary and Joseph were not at home. They were cut off from all the networks they had, following the decree of Caesar Augustus to go to Bethlehem. And there, they had their first child. Away from home; away from everything that could have helped them.

They stayed in Bethlehem for two years. One of the downsides to small town living is the gossip factor, and Mary had what most would have seen as an illegitimate child, not understanding the work of God and the Holy Spirit. In their eyes, she would either have been unfaithful, or she and Joseph had broken all the rules that led Joseph to be known as and called tsadik by the Gospel writer: a “righteous man,” a title not given very frequently in the Scriptures.

Neither interpretation would have helped their reputations. Neither would have made it easy for Jesus, as the censure of the town populace would be felt from day one. So maybe Joseph took the moment of having to travel to try and make a new home – a home in Bethlehem. After all, his trade could travel, as long as he could go back for his tools. And the people in Bethlehem didn’t know him and his family like they did in Nazareth.

But you see, that wasn’t to be either. No home in Bethlehem. After just two years, they were told to go down to Egypt, after the wise men came and visited them. So they packed up their things, and their toddler, and headed on a long journey down south. Not just a new town this time. A new country, and a new culture. A new history, and a new ethos. One hostile to the Jewish people for much of history. One where they would NEVER be able to be completely at home; would never be able to simply “fit in.” And after six years there, they were told to go back to Nazareth.

Following the Father’s commands, they did so. Jesus would have been about eight years old by now, probably with siblings, and they would have moved three times in an age when most people never moved at all. Always moving, never able to set down those roots that tie us together and make us one. We know he never felt at home there – even as a child!

When he was twelve, he disappears during the family’s yearly pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Mary and Joseph find him in the temple, they try to discipline him for leaving them, and are shocked when he asks them why they didn’t know he would be “in my father’s house, doing my Father’s business.” Not Joseph’s house, that he had tried to establish for the family in Nazareth. Not Joseph his Dad. Not even Mary as mom, as we shall see in a few minutes. Jesus clearly felt he didn’t belong. It wasn’t “home” for him.

Sometime around Jesus being sixteen years old, Joseph dies (how we know that would take too long to get into here at this time, but trust me it was so). Now, Jesus has to take care of the family as the oldest son. He cannot establish his own household; make his own home. He cares for his mother’s – for Joseph’s – family and home. He does this until he is thirty years old – a confirmed bachelor in Jewish terms, and finally able to let go of those responsibilities and move on to his own business.

That business – ministry for the Father in heaven – required him to travel. To travel even more than before. No place even to lay his own head, as he noted to his disciples in the Gospel of Matthew. And trust me, the family didn’t like it. In the Gospel of Mark, they actually come to him as he teaches in a house and tell him (I’m paraphrasing here) “Quit this nonsense and come back home to your mother and your brothers!” Implied is “Get back to doing the family business, and being where you belong!” Jesus’ response is telling as he replies “Who is my mother and my brother, but he who does the will of God?”

As an adult, making a choice in following the Father’s plan, the Son moves around constantly, setting down no roots and making no home. Even when he dies on the cross – dying for your sins and my sins, to save us and heal the break in the relationship WE created with our sin – he had to be buried in a borrowed tomb. Not a family plot. No mausoleum, or long row of headstones with family names on it. No place to rest forever, in a time and culture where that was very important for the soul being at peace. No place to call home; no place he belongs.

Have you ever wondered why this was so? Have you ever wondered why, on earth, even as an infant in the cradle, he never had a place to all home – a place to truly belong? Let me suggest to you that maybe it was because he had another place he called home – another place he belonged. There is a song by Carrie Underwood called “Temporary home.” I would like you to listen to the final verse and chorus of the song. (Listen at www.youtube.com/watch?v=if7CZF_ycWQ starting at 2:57.)

Old man, hospital bed
The room is filled with people he loves
And he whispers don’t cry for me
I’ll see you all someday
He looks up and says “I can see God’s face.”

“This is my temporary Home;
It’s not where I belong
Windows and rooms that I’m passin’ through
This was just a stop, on the way to where I’m going
I’m not afraid because I know this was
My temporary home.”

Maybe the reason Jesus was able to leave heaven itself, “emptying himself for us” as Paul says in Philippians is that he knew he had a home back in heaven above, where one day he would return. And He knew that once he had returned, he would send the Holy Spirit, and dwell within each one of us! He even promised His disciples that he was going to make a place for them above with the Father – for all who believed on His name.

When Jesus came to earth, and was born of Mary, incarnate Son both fully human and fully God, it was for a purpose. It was to come to the cross, and to save each and every one of us who believes. This was just a temporary home, and his life showed it. His roots were in heaven, and He knew it, holding on to it throughout the whole of His life here as he lived with and loved those around him.

That anchor – that one, unconquerable, unbreakable lifeline and truth – was one which we too can have today. Just believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, trusting him with your future, and your lives today. So often we get so caught up in the goings on right here and now, that we lose perspective. Never lose perspective. Always remember the manger, and the cross; and the empty tomb that came after. They are all three linked, and should not be separated.

This is not our home, however much we love it and those who live around us. Home is where the heart is – and that lies with God in Christ. The same Christ who is called Emmanuel; “God with us.” For He is with us, in our hearts, and in our lives. And our home, and our future, lies with Him.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, Amen.


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