Coming Home | A MANGER FOR THE WORLD
“I’ll be home for Christmas,” so goes the song, recorded by Bing Crosby in 1943. Written by Kim Gannon, the song takes the form of a letter from a World War II soldier stationed overseas. The soldier sings to his family, far away in a home he can visit only in his dreams. According to an article from Wikipedia, Gannon meant for the song to encompass more than the longing for home from soldiers serving abroad. He hoped to capture the sense of any person who was unable to make it “home” for Christmas, whatever their circumstances.
We started out this season talking about what is home, what makes a place a home, and where our true home is. I wrote about my own family history, and how it made for an unsettled annual question and a constantly evolving sense of what it means to go “home for Christmas.” I wrote about how difficult it is for some of us to go home for Christmas, for a variety of reasons. My colleagues shared stories about their experiences of home and family and community.
This morning, we talked about Mary and her courageous response to the news that she would soon have to provide a home for her unexpected baby. We talked about how creating home is hard for so many people in our day and age, but how what is true for us has been true for every generation. Home has never been easy for most of us. Still, our hearts beckon us to “come down” home, not just at the holidays, but throughout our lives.
It is interesting to me that “I’ll be home for Christmas” was penned in 1943, because that just happens to be the year my home in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, was built. I live in a government construction home in what is now a national park. The valley in which my home is situated was established by the United States government in 1942 for a single purpose: to produce the materials needed to manufacture a nuclear weapon. During the time the Manhattan Project was underway, most of the people who lived and worked in Oak Ridge had no idea what they were making. It wasn’t until the bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki that people understood the magnitude, and the horror, of their endeavor.
The population of my town grew from 3000 people in 1942 to 75,000 by 1945. Most of the homes built to house the people who came to work on the Manhattan Project were temporary: dormitories, hutments, flat tops, and trailers. But there were some early prefabricated, more permanent houses built, and my husband and I own one of them.
This is the first home I have ever owned. As such, I’ve become quite attached to it. We’ve spent countless hours working on it: painting, laying floors, renovating rooms, landscaping, installing new plumbing, light fixtures, tile. It has been a labor of love, and I’ve imagined myself living here until I die.
But of course, as we talked about earlier in the season, those of us who have chosen the life of itinerancy can’t allow ourselves to get too attached, even if we are among the lucky ones who have a housing allowance and can buy a home of our own. We can’t get too attached because God is always calling us to be on the move.
We are not called to ignore the heavenly host of angels that appear in the night sky to announce the birth of a newborn baby in the City of David, the one who is Christ the Lord. When we hear that announcement, just like the shepherds in the field, we have to get up and hightail it over to the manger where he lay.
Because to see God in the world, we must be not only willing to go, but to actively pursue the places where God is appearing.
And let us be absolutely clear: God is still appearing. God is appearing just as profoundly today as God appeared in this world on that starry night in the land of Palestine over two millennia ago.
Maybe with all that is going on in the world, we might be tempted to imagine that something terrible must be brewing, especially if a person lives in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, where the evil that is nuclear weapons was born. When I look around me at all the challenges we are facing as a world community as we come to the close of the Year of our Lord, 2017, I can’t help but hear Matthew’s voice echoing in my head:
Beware that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name saying, “I am the Messiah!” and they will lead many astray. And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars; see that you are not alarmed; for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places: all this is but the beginning of the birth pangs (Matthew 24:4-8, NRSV).
We have a choice. We can be terrified so much that we give in to our base fears as human beings and circle the wagons, or crawl into our private caves where we hole up and hide until it is safe to come out.
Or we can be like those shepherds in the field, bold enough that even though we are terrified, find the courage and strength to get up and go to the manger to see the promised Messiah that has come, and who is surely coming again. And then, following their example, not just keep the good news for ourselves, but proclaim it to others! After all, the shepherds, after encountering Christ for themselves, “made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them” (Luke 1:17-18).
The good news is even though the angels have appeared in the night sky and we are terrified by them, they have not come to frighten us. They have come to make an amazing announcement meant to bring great joy to all the people of the world! To us is born this day in the City of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord!” And this Messiah was born not just for the people of his day, but for the people of every day and age. This Messiah was born to save YOU.
One final thought.
Before we hop in the car to follow those shepherds to the City of David to see the child that has been born, let us be clear about something: This manger is not just for us to see, any more than it was just for the shepherds. It’s not just for you. It is not just for me. It is not just for the privileged, or the Christians, or the ones who live in a land of the free. It’s not just for the family members we like, or approve of, or agree with. It’s not just for the folks who live like us and think like us. It’s not just for some.
This manger is for the entire world. And those angels have invited all the world to come and see—not just come and see—but to come down home and sit a spell, as we say in the South.
Christ is our true home.
This manger is the place where all the world comes to kneel on this holy night.
This is our true home, our permanent home, the place where we are welcome, and secure, and able to bask in Christ’s peace, Christ’s love, Christ’s good will and hope for all people and for all time.
No matter who we are or where we live, no matter whether we have come down home for Christmas or we are celebrating with a family we have made for ourselves. No matter what our state of sinfulness or station in life. No matter what our status or identity or background or culture or beliefs. No matter whether we live in a mansion that has been in our family for generations or in an apartment or a car or a tent or a shelter, the fact is, all of our earthly homes are temporary.
There is only one home that is permanent, and that is the home we make with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, whose birth we celebrate tonight, and whose coming again we will not fear, but rather, will look for with the hope of Joseph, and the joy of Mary, and the curiosity and conviction of the Magi, and the boldness of the shepherds in the field.
Let us gather around the manger. Let us gather around the Table of our Lord.