Home: there aren’t many words in the English language that evoke stronger emotions from all over the spectrum than home; some the fondest of memories, and some…not so much. Some people do everything they possibly can to get back; some avoid it at all possible cost. Or maybe the word makes us think of all the things we still have to do in order to get the house ready for family to come in the next couple weeks. Not to mention in recent generations “home” changes much more frequently than ever before from job transitions to family situations. Nevertheless, whatever we call “home,” for however long we claim it, for whatever reason we choose to use that sentimentally-charged word to describe it, “home” has a way of impacting us for the rest of our life.
For my family it is the farm we grew up in in Upper Sandusky, Ohio, surrounded by hundreds of acres of fields, and with just as many of the fondest of memories to fill up all the land. Yes, my siblings and I, the four of us, have grown, and we have moved on. But no matter how much we make other places “home,” no matter how many memories we create in other houses, that farm in Upper Sandusky will always be home to us. It’s where we grew up, spending some of the most pivotal years of our life: shaping us into who we are years after we left. It’s where we congratulated each other after athletic success (that, of course, was everyone else but me). It’s where we encouraged one another after each one of us got our first job. It’s where we raised our cows and pigs to take to the county fair. It’s where we watched our father farm to put food on our table and other people far beyond the Midwest. It’s where I invited my friends over after football Friday nights, and I’m sure kept my parents up well into the night. But it’s also where we supported each other when life didn’t go so well. It’s where we came together when we heard that our grandparents died. It’s where we had to hug each other before one sibling after another left for college. That house, that farm, that overflowing collection of love and compassion, will always be home.
And yet, I have to realize that in the grand scheme of eternity that beloved farm will be but a passing breath. God has somewhere else in mind for home, one not crafted by any set of human hands, but with the most tender divine care. Home for humanity cannot be of this earth, but instead the Kingdom of Heaven, where Creation will be restored in all its beauty as God intended from the beginning. Heaven has to be home.
That’s one of the primary reminders in this season the church calls Advent: this world we call “home” must pass away at some point in time. Maybe that’s why we don’t like Advent so much. It’s not that it’s just a hindrance from us fully celebrating Christmas all these weeks leading up to December 25, stopping us from singing our beloved carols every Sunday morning. It’s that we don’t like what it’s trying to tell us. For most of us we like “home” the way it is. It’s where our own memories were made, where our families grew closer together, it’s a place we invested plenty of sweat and tears and money poured into it. We made it our “home.” It’s ours!
That’s what the Israelites thought thousands of years ago, as told by the prophet Zephaniah this morning. They had finally reached the Promised Land. They had made it their home over generations filled with struggles and despair to be sure, and yet with just as much happiness and joy. But then in a blink of time foreign armies came in and changed their lives forever. It wasn’t so much that their property was destroyed; it was that they were taken away from their home, from the Promised Land, into an exile that made them feel as if they had lost the very essence of their being.
Nonetheless, as Zephaniah prophesied to the exiles God would bring them back home soon enough. However, the ultimate fulfillment of the prophecy is not the Israelites returning back to the Promised Land. Instead, it is for all of God’s children to come home, into the heavenly place, into the time of no more war, no more violence, no more loss, no more pain, no more depressing memories, no more death; only life in all its fullness, only Creation in its ultimate beauty that God had in mind from the start.
Evidently the cliché is “home is where the heart is,” a reminder that it’s not so much a house, or any kind of physical structure, but one can find home wherever the heart is at its emotional height, oftentimes with the ones we love wherever that may be. So if that is the case, heaven, the Kingdom of everlasting life, is where the heart of God is. And it was brought to life to the world in Jesus Christ, and God brings a glimpse of it to us in the gifts of bread and wine, in the body and blood of our Savior. Nevertheless, God has something more. We don’t know when, or exactly how, but God has Heaven taken care of; God has us taken care of with the place all of God’s children will call home for eternity, where our hearts will reach the a surpassing joy that we cannot even begin to imagine. And so for that home that will last forever, for that that is still to come, we give thanks to this God of everlasting life indeed. Amen.
St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
Rev. Nan Dehnke, Pastor
Office: Mon - Thu: 9 a.m. - Noon