Some of the greatest stories ever told have been about coming home. The Odyssey, by Homer, the ancient Greek tale of a warrior, named Odysseus, who has been far from home, for far too long, stuck at war in the service of his superior.
The Odyssey is the great tale of Odysseus’ journey home through many trials and struggles and temptations to return to his patient wife. This tale, at least partially possibly based on real events, would have struck the ancient heart, in the same way as it does the modern, with a sense of anticipation, wonder, and hope at the joy of returning home.
But it is not just ancient and mighty tales that tell this story of coming home. There is also the tale of Lassie the dog who escapes only to find his way home to his old family, in Lassie Come Home. This classic but simple tale tells a story that reaches into the heart of many people of all ages who just want to see Lassie reunited with his family.
In fact, this tale inspired similar stories like Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey and others. There is something about a coming home story that really clicks with people, and especially stories of dogs returning to their families.
And it is not just stories either.
The famous and beloved Christmas song, I’ll Be Home For Christmas strikes the same chord in the heart of many.
I’ll be home for Christmas, You can plan on me, Please have snow and mistletoe, And presents by the tree, Christmas eve will find me, Where the love light gleams, I’ll be home for Christmas, If only in my dreams.
Originally recorded by Bing Crosby and written by Kim Gannon and Walter Kent, this song has been sung a million times by as many performers, and every time it is done well, it reminds us of those things we really cherish at Christmas; warmth, good food, presents, family and the familiarity of home.
This may not be your favourite Christmas carol – mine is Mary’s Boy Child, sung by Harry Belafonte – but it will make many people pause and sing the lyrics. Ah to be home on Christmas Day, and not far away. For those who are far from home, this is an especially powerful song and a heart-warming thought. Odysseus would have loved this tune if he knew what Christmas was, which he didn’t, but he knew what it was to long for home. We all do.
Coming home is a great and mighty theme indeed because home is where we want to be, long to be, and look toward when we are away for a time, even if we are having a riot of a time. It is fitting to sing about being home for Christmas at Christmas time because the theme of coming home is right at the heart of the reason for this magnificent season.
There are different ways to tell this account, but I want to start at the beginning, right at the beginning, at creation. God did not have to create us, he did not need us, he did not rely on us for anything. God does not make people, or planets, or animals for the same reason we make shoes, or cars, or homes.
You see we need these things to make our life easier, to make it safer, to make it more convenient. But God is in want and need for nothing, he has all he needs and always has in eternity.
No, God created this whole world because he could, and so that we might enjoy it, and live in it, and have access to his garden, his throne, and to live with him. He created us to have a home with him, to enjoy him, be blessed by him, and relish in the delights of a good creation. But, we decided it was not enough.
The man and the woman in the garden wanted more, they wanted it all, even though they had more than we can imagine, they reached out for that which they were not supposed to and sought equality with God and disobeyed his commands. This tragic event, we call it the fall, was really a leap, a leap from grace, a leap from the perfection of the good creation into this cursed and fallen world, tainted by the sin of man because humanity rejected God. Such a tragedy.
This could have been the end of the story as well. God could have ended it all at that point. There is no doubt that humanity deserved judgement. To reject the good offerings of the blessed creator, to disobey him and chase after that which was forbidden was humanity’s choice, and humanity’s responsibility to bear alone.
But God is better than us and better than we can imagine, he decided not to end the story there.
This is where Christmas comes in, and it really is an account about coming home. Because it is the story of a young couple, Mary and Joseph, betrothed, but not yet married, who are told that Mary, who has never laid with any man, will have a child, and not just any child either.
This will be a miraculous child, born of a virgin, conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit. The child Mary will bear shall be the Mighty One himself, the Son of God, the Holy One, who has come to our fallen planet in the form of a baby, that shall grow to be a man, and will lay down his life for all of humanity, so that we can be restored to our rightful place; at home with God, in his kingdom.
Christmas really is about coming home because this is why Jesus was born; to bring his people home. God was not content to let all of humanity fade away in our own sin and perish, though we truly deserved it. We really did! Have you seen the movie, or read the famous book, A Christmas Carol? Maybe you are familiar with A Muppets Christmas Carol, with Michael Cain and the Muppet Show cast. I love that movie and I love the book as well. Two great tellings of a famous story.
You may watch this movie, or read this book, and look at old Ebenezer Scrooge and barrack for the little people in this story, the bookkeeper Bob Cratchit, or the young man who sings the carol and gets rushed away, or the nephew of Scrooge who won’t let anything get in the way of his Christmas cheer. And right we should, Scrooge is the villain in this tale, though he is a villain redeemed, he is the villain still. We are right to think he should be taught a lesson, or put in his place. Which he is.
But we need to realize that we are all just as often Scrooge as we are not. Scrooge was not generous, but we are also often not as generous as we should be. Scrooge was a right old Scrooge about other people’s suffering, and we too can often look on those struggling more in judgement than in pity and compassion.
Scrooge was quicker to bad temper than is right, as we too can be. All of Scrooge’s imperfections are reflected in all of us to one degree or another at different points in our lives, and most importantly, like Scrooge we all too often are too quick to judge, which is a contemptible fault. And like Scrooge – this is important – just like him we too need to be redeemed.
God did not have to make a way for us to return to him, because we deserve judgement, not grace, but grace he offers us, mercy he gives us if we would just receive it. This great mercy is seen most vibrantly in the Son of God, being born of a virgin, and growing to be the kind of perfect man that no other human has ever been.
This perfect man then laid down his life of his own accord, to die on the cross in a terrible way, so that our sins could be punished in him, dealt with in him, covered by his sacrifice, and then he rose again to achieve for us the eternal life that can only be found in him. He did this, so we can return home to him one day, and he offers this gift to all who would simply turn from their sins and trust in him.
This is the heart of the Christmas story, a coming home story to surpass them all, because as C.S. Lewis reminds us, if all of our needs in this life can find satisfaction, for food, for sleep, for thirst and more, except that longing for eternal and lasting satisfaction…then, well, it stands to reason that the true satisfaction we are looking for will be found not in this world, which cannot fulfil it, but in the next when we are finally, and restfully returned to our true home, where we really belong. But to return there, there is only one way and that is through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, who became a child, all those years ago.
Merry Christmas, I know 2020 has been a wringer of a year. A year that we just want to see behind us. But I hope that you have a blessed and merry time, and whatever next year brings, let’s look to the future with the hope that is truly offered by the Lord of this season. Merry Christmas!