The season of Advent snuck up on me the other day. Even though I’m away from my family, from my loved ones studying all about a guy named Jesus in Atlanta, the season still caught me by surprise amid my swimming through the seas of papers and projects. It came in a question posed to me by my friend Katelyn: “Are you going home for the holidays?”
Home. That place for each of us that evokes a multitude of feelings, and for good reason. It’s a place that’s unlike anywhere else. For me, home is a small house warmed by a woodburning stove, nestled between a grove of pine trees on a hill overlooking the rocky Plymouth Bay in Massachusetts. Home might look different for you. Frederick Buechner observed that “The word home summons up a place-more specifically a house within that place-that you have rich and complex feelings about, a place where you feel, or did feel once, uniquely at home, which is to say a place where you feel you belong and that in some sense belongs to you, a place where you feel that all is somehow ultimately well even if things aren’t going all that well at any given moment.”
Are you going home for the holidays? There’s a reason why our feelings of home are so complex. In stories, it is a well-established truth that when a hero comes home, things never go well. Like Odysseus returning to Ithaca after the Trojan War or Frodo and Samwise returning to the Shire in the Lord of the Rings, catastrophe is bound to occur soon after her or his homecoming.
In the fourth chapter of Luke’s Gospel, Jesus leaves the desert filled with the Holy Spirit and begins a preaching tour in synagogues throughout all the countryside. He swings by his home, a newly minted golden child, to attend services as was his custom. But instead of the service going as expected, the doors fly open with the crowd bent on killing him. What happened in the span of these few moments? What has happened to home here?
The reason why all hell breaks loose in the homes in our stories and in our lives is because of the breaking of expectations. Both the hero and the community have different expectations of one another and themselves. Here, for years leading up to this point, people had been using Isaiah’s passage to claim divine authority to take up the role of liberator against Israel’s oppressors. When Christ sought out this passage, he knew what people would think. He knew what people would expect.
Despite their expectations, Christ presents a new way of being – not one of dominance, but of service. Not one of force, but of love. The heart of the matter today is that Christ is quick to remind the people that those who are most comfortable with him, those who think he owes them their due, those who want to keep them for themselves to build themselves up, to make their idea of what home should be like a reality, aren’t the ones who he has come to serve.
“I cannot claim,” Buechner continues, ”that I have found the home I long for every day of my life, not by a long shot, but I believe that in my heart I have found, and have maybe always known, the way that leads to it. I believe that […] the home we long for and belong to is finally where Christ is.” You’ve heard it said that home is where the heart is. And where is God’s heart? God finds home amid the captives, in proclaiming good news to the poor, in standing in solidarity with those squatting under the highways and byways around fires in trashcans. Furthermore, if home is where Christ is, I find myself asking myself today, are you going home for the holidays? Will we go with God to the edge of society, or will we take him there, to a hill outside of town to kill him?
“I believe that home is Christ’s kingdom,” Buechner concludes, ”which exists both within us and among us as we wend our prodigal ways through the world in search of it.” Even despite ourselves, even when we cannot see past ourselves, I am thankful that Christ still somehow slips through. As we struggle to be faithful to follow Christ, as we clamber down all the roads our lives take, I invite you to wonder where you’re going in life. Where does Christ say home is today? And finally, are you going home for the holidays?