The holiday season (which is well under way) seems to carry with it a sense of longing for something we call “home.” In the words of that ubiquitous holiday anthem popularized by Perry Como:
Oh, there’s no place like home for the holidays
Cause no matter how far away you roam
If you want to be happy in a million ways
For the holidays, you can’t beat home, sweet home
Now, being home, of course, is about something more than just being in a particular place. No, more than that, it’s about being with particular people.
This is illustrated perhaps no better than in that modern cinematic classic, where we find that being home for the holidays isn’t very happy at all, if one is Home Alone (even if it does afford one the opportunity to ward off robbers by building booby traps).
Out of a desire to be home for the holidays, over 90 million people travel to visit friends and family between Christmas and New Years. People are willing to endure long lines, and bad traffic, and flight delays all for the sake of being ‘home’. And it’s worth it, I think – especially when we consider that the opportunities we have to gather with our loved ones is finite.
One of my strongest holiday memories is of traveling each year to my grandmother’s house, to gather with my aunts, uncles, and cousins. My grandmother lived in a small, old-fashioned, rural home, set on a large plot of land.
A wood stove heated the house, and a blast of hot air would hit my face whenever I would walk through the front door. Inside, the wood floors were squeaky and the walls were covered with stoic photos of distant relatives who had passed away long before I was even born.
I’m glad that I spent the time that I did there at my grandmother’s house over holidays past, because my grandmother is no longer alive, and her property has long since been sold. That “home” does not exist anymore – neither the structure, nor many of the people who filled it.
When I think of this, I feel a small pang in my heart. It’s an ache that all of us know. It is a longing to be home . . . not just for a little while . . . but forever.
It is precisely this ache that is addressed in the true story that the Bible tells. The opening pages of this book describe an earthly home that is perfect in every way. It is a place of un-interrupted peace, love, and joy. It is a space where human relationships flourish, as they remain in fellowship with and under the wise care of the Creator.
But early on in this story, something tragic happens.
Humans reject the good order of the Creator, in effect choosing emancipation from the Heavenly Father’s household. As a result, these first humans were required to leave this glorious home. Ever since, all humans have been born estranged from God, and alienated from the one place that would ever truly feel like home.
And so, though we are each unique in many ways, at the core we are all the same. Our deepest longing – indeed our deepest need – is to find our way back home. But on our own, all of our efforts have fallen flat. There is simply no way, on our own, to get back what has been lost.
Today, we are still waiting for the day when Jesus comes again, to bring God’s people home forever.
And that’s precisely why this holiday season – the season that celebrates the advent of the Christ child – is so special. For, according to the Scriptures, the coming of Jesus was the coming of the Creator. And He came for this reason: to do what we, on our own, could not do.
He came to bring God’s people home.
In Jesus, God took on humanity, embarking on a mission to a far country. Because we could not find Him, He came and found us, and He made His home with us.
This involved a humbling of the highest order. It would be like the Queen of England giving up Buckingham Palace and entering the company of homeless street dwellers. And yet even this does not capture the degree of God’s condescension, as He came to live as and among us. For God not only took on humanity, but at the cross He also took upon Himself the just penalty for the rebellion of those He had come to bring home.
Regarding this home, before Jesus went to the cross, he spoke these words to his disciples: “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (Jn. 14:3). And a bit later, after being questioned about the way to where Jesus was going, Jesus said the following: “I am the way” (Jn. 14:6).
There is one way home, and Jesus Christ is that way.
Today, we are still waiting for the day when Jesus comes again, to bring God’s people home forever. That’s why we, as Christians, celebrate Advent – a term that literally means, “coming.” As we look back to Jesus’ first coming, we also look forward to that day when he will come again.
On that day when Jesus returns, it will be a home-coming of epic proportions – for it will be a day when those who have turned from their rebellion, and have placed their trust in Jesus, will be home not just for the holidays, but home forevermore.
And so, this holiday season, whatever gladness is experienced as we enjoy the people and places that we identify with “home,” let us remember that these serve as but a small approximation of the infinite goodness of that coming day when the innermost yearnings of the human heart are met, when God’s people are called home, once and for all.
About Tim Harmon
Timothy G. Harmon is Assistant Director of the Th.M. Program at Western Seminary, and lead pastor at Northeast Baptist Church in Portland, Oregon. He is a graduate of Western Seminary (M.A.B.T.S. and Th.M.), and is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in systematic theology.