Thursday, December 25, 2014

"Home for the Holidays"

This sermon was my Christmas Eve 2014 sermon.  I conceived the idea as events unfurled within my own family.  On Wednesday December 17th word was that my Grandma (Mom's mom) was going downhill and fast.  This wasn't a huge surprise to us as we knew she was in poor health (alzheimer's) already.  By noon on Thursday Dec. 18th we knew that her passing was imminent.  My family had been planning on travelling to Southern Illinois on Friday Dec. 19th for Christmas parties.  This news moved our plans up a day and we travelled on Thursday.  Grandma went to be with her Lord Thursday evening.

We could see the Lord's timing in all of this as we and so much of our family was already planning to be in town and now could be together to mourn Grandma's passing.  During all of this I was also tasked with continuing to prepare a sermon for Christmas Eve at my congregation.  It seemed fitting to tie current events in with the message.  I don't often bring largely personal stories into my preaching but on this occasion it seemed both appropriate and helpful.


Brothers and sisters in Christ, may the joy of Christmas and the birth of our Savior be yours, now and always, Amen.

I hope you’ve had the blessing of being able to join us over the last few weeks during our Advent worship to hear God’s Word through the beloved Christmas carol “Away in a Manger.” Though its words are simple, it brings to mind great images of what our Savior’s birth means for us. We love to picture that baby Jesus, the Christ Child, in that manger surrounded by some of the farm animals, resting in a stable, with mother and father watching proudly over. Though in reality, that scene doesn’t last for long. Its precious to us, no doubt, but its short-lived. Just as Christmas seems to come and go oh so quickly for us, so it is in the life of our Our Savior, who wasn’t in the manger for long, He had more important matters to attend to.

When we think of Jesus, away in the manger, we must guard against picturing a Savior far away from us. For that is not the reality of our God or His work in this world. It is for that reason, tonight we are going to look at our Savior and His birth from a different perspective. Not, “away in the manger”, but rather ”home for the holidays.”

That’s a phrase we can all relate to. Probably a phrase we all could say we like. Home for the holidays. It means a lot of wonderful things to us. Being home for the holidays means being with those whom we love. Friends and family typically. Being home for the holidays implies that we spend much of our time away from home or separated from close family and friend. It means sharing meals, good conversation and stories. It means sharing gifts and sharing time together. Whether we’re going home to where we grew up to be with Mom and Dad, or we are away at college ready to head home, or whether it is us waiting for the kids and others to come home to us, we sure do desire to be home for the holidays.

Of course being home is about more than just good food and seeing the family, it is said “home is where the heart is.” Its no accident many of us have become familiar with something called “being homesick”. There is something written into our very being that longs to be home. That longs to be where we belong, to be where our heart is. I can say, as much as I love to be away on a vacation, up in the mountains, or some place beautiful, after enough time away the longing is there to just be home.

Our Lord Jesus describes this in a similar way. In Matthew 6:21 Jesus tells us “for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Treasure is something of great value. Jesus statement speaks to the fact that the things we give our most attention to, that we give our time and our mind to, will also have our heart. This begs the question of us, what is our treasure in this life? What or whom holds our heart?

Is our time and our heart captured in the things of this world? Is it work? Is it play? Is it our kids’ sports and activities? What or whom holds our heart? If we say Christ, does our life reflect that answer? Is my life one that invests its time in the things of God? Am I in my Lord’s house to be fed by Him? In His Word? Is my love for my neighbor as much as it is for me, myself, and I? The treasures of this life seem to be many, but there is only one true Treasure, and that is the babe in the manger.

This also shows us something about our Savior and what we celebrate tonight. Consider, that God Himself, has taken on human flesh and come to dwell with us, this is what the nativity of Jesus, the incarnation, is all about. God made His home with us. Indeed, home is where the heart is. We are God’s treasure, His heart is with us, His home is made with us.

Tells us something about the kind of love God has for us. He is the almighty Creator. He can do as He pleases, and His design, His desire is to be with us, even if it means taking on human flesh and all the frailties and difficulties that come with it. This Christmas we are thankful that Christ has come home for the holiday, home with us.

Over the years, for me the phrase “home for the holidays” pretty much always meant we headed for Grandma’s house. And let me tell you, there is nothing quite like going to Grandma’s house. I have been blessed to grow up knowing both of my Grandmother’s and a trip to either’s house was always a treat.

This year, however, home for the holidays has come to mean something different for my family. We were ready to head to Grandma’s house, but our Lord had better plans in mind. Instead, just six days ago, my Grandma went home for the holidays with her Savior. She went to her true home, her Lord called her. Grandma’s home is with her Lord, she celebrates Christmas with Jesus this year. That’s the home we all truly long for.

Sure, it is pure joy that Christ came to this earth to dwell with us, but that was never to be a forever thing. He dwells with us here in time, only so that He can make it possible, and more, to bring us to be permanently home with Him, in heaven, for eternity.

For many of our loved ones, this is what home for the holidays now means for them. Its never easy on a family to have to say farewell to someone at this time of year, to witness a loved one laid into the grave, many of us dread the thought or may think it would be enough to just ruin Christmas. But not so for me, not this year.

While I will certainly miss going to Grandma’s house to see her there. And I will miss the way when I was at her house there was never an excuse to go hungry. Whether it was the blackberry cobbler or the one-of-a-kind strawberry jelly, she made sure we knew we were loved. And now she knows, beyond all doubt, she is loved too. Not just by family, but perfectly so by her Savior. No more will the consequences of sin ravage her body and mind, no more will there be tears, sorrow, suffering or pain. She knows the perfect love, the perfect home with Christ. This is true for all whom our Lord has called home for the holidays.

We may be tempted to be caught up in the sorrows of thinking things are forever in this life. The thoughts of how I will never see her again. I will never get the smell of her baking cookies again. I will never see my kids as babies again. There are a lot of nevers we may be caught up in with our thoughts. But these really just aren’t true. The forevers of this world are just “wait and see’s” with our Lord.

For our manger-born Savior has come to make His home with us and our home with Him. That the only forever we’ll ever need to know is a forever with Him. A forever that will be with our beloved saints who have died in the Lord. A forever that will mean all our losses in this life made anew once more.

So tonight, as we song of and ponder our Savior away in the manger, let us not forget, He’s not so far after all. As we think of those who are heading home for the holidays, whether it be to our earthly homes or those to whom the heavenly home has finally called, let us be reminded that indeed our home is ultimately and truly with the Lord, as He has made His home with us. Let this be the source of our Christmas joy, both now and forever. To God be the glory. Amen.

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