Home with us

Luke 19:1-10

Christmas celebrations, almost invariably, in one way or another, have a focus on “home”.  Many of our own church and school family members are not worshipping with us here tonight because they have gone home for Christmas.  Some of those who are not home, miss home.  Some young families and newly married couples, suffer from the ambivalence of not quite being sure where home is at this stage in life—is it drifting back to the family connections of the past?  Or is our new home already really home?  Some families drive themselves to exhaustion making sure that they get to every home that is home within the allotted few days.  Others work out a pattern of defining which home is the home to get to on alternate years.

And it’s not so much a matter of the place or the space; home is about identity:  who I am; where I belong; how I fit in; where I am loved, valued, known, understood.

Each year, on Christmas Eve, we listen to the familiar story of the journey which Joseph and Mary make from their home in Nazareth to the ancestral home of their family in Bethlehem.  They become, in a very real sense—and right at that critical moment when Mary is expecting a baby!—they become displaced, homeless persons.  The Roman government declares a census that puts many, many people on the move.  It is not the Roman’s home country, yet they call the shots.  Joseph and Mary pack up and leave their home in Galilee—a home somewhat on the edge for the Jews—pack up and leave their home and business and we know that they don’t return for some years.  Arriving at Bethlehem it is likely that they will find hospitality among family (third cousins once removed?) but we know, again, that the conditions are crowded and complicated and they certainly don’t move into a cute cottage with a nice back garden on a six month lease.  Like everyone else, they are jostled about and barely squeezed in.

Yet, we sit quietly on Christmas Eve, contemplating that family together, in the barest and meanest of conditions, and sing of joy, and peace, and love; and when we let go of everything else that pulls and tugs relentlessly at our own current sense of self, and of the world, and just quietly contemplate the child, in the manger, and the parents…this is high festival for us!  This is nothing but everything!  This is quiet exuberance!  This is…

What is this?

Some thirty-and-a-bit years after Jesus’ birth, Jesus passed through one of the towns his parents most likely went through on their journey towards Bethlehem so that they could be counted for the sake of the Roman tax system.  While Jesus was there he noticed a well-known but well-despised local tax collector, by the name of Zacchaeus.  The other locals were disgusted at Jesus:  “This man has gone as a guest to the home of a sinner!”

Yes, Jesus went to the home of sinners.  He shared celebratory meals with the flagrantly unrighteous, unholy, undeserving of his day.  He went to the home of sinners.

And at the end of the meal, as Luke tells us (the same Gospel that we have heard tonight)—at the end of the meal, as Zacchaeus becomes quite elated, happy, joyful, at peace, loved—all those things that you might feel you might feel if Jesus were at your table, in your home!—Jesus sums up the whole of the day in this way, “Salvation has come to this house today!  The Son of Man [Jesus!] came to seek and to save the lost.”

It was the day God had come home to Zacchaeus.  Jesus found him, and came home.

If you trace the whole of the story of the whole of God’s relationship with the whole of humanity you find that God establishes “home” by being present with his people.  Time and time again they wander off.  One of the best known of all of the stories Luke tells in his Gospel is the one of the boy who reckons he’s OK on his own, takes his inheritance, and goes off—eventually, trying to crawl back to his father, it is his father who runs to him and, at that moment, he is home again—even before his humble, embarrassing confession—even before he sets foot on the property, his father’s arms have embraced him and declared him home.  This is the story of God and people.  We constantly wander off.  But rather than take the risk of seeing whether or not we find our way back, he comes and finds us.  Jesus comes to Zacchaeus and says, “Today salvation—healing, life, hope—has come to this house!”

This is what happened in Bethlehem.  God came to his people, and then, whatever the conditions, and in the midst of any uncertainty, there was home; God was with his people.

Right at the end of the New Testament, in the very last chapter, speaking of Jesus coming to us, John tells us of a loud voice shouting from heaven’s throne:  “God’s home is now with his people.  He will live with them, and they will be his own.  Yes, God will make his home among his people.”

We sit, relatively quietly this evening, for a few minutes in the middle of a muddle—preceding weeks of frantic preparations, exciting celebrations, and exhausting cleaning up afterwards—but now, for a moment we are quiet.  The angels have reminded us that our Saviour has come to us, is with us—and God is at home with his people.

God is at home with us, in his faithfulness, in his compassion, in his grace.

Home is not so much a matter of the place or the space; home is about identity:  who I am; where I belong; how I fit in; where I am loved, valued, known, understood. 

God is at home with us.

May you celebrate with great joy and quiet peace in knowing that Jesus has come to make his home with you.  Amen.