“Home for the Holidays” (Sermon for Christmas Eve, by Pr. Charles Henrickson)
“Home for the Holidays” (Luke 2:1-20)
“Oh, there’s no place like home for the holidays.” So goes the familiar Christmas song. And it is good to be home, with family, at Christmas time. Renewed relations, good food, smiles on all the faces. There’s a fire in the fireplace, and you’re sitting in the living room, opening presents by the Christmas tree. Perry Como is singing in the background. Como, cocoa, cookies, and kids–a Christmas right out of Norman Rockwell. Very nice.
But tonight I want to tell you about something even better than that. What it really means to be home for the holidays. Really home. Your true home. For the holidays, the holy days, and beyond. It’s all wrapped up in the Christmas Gospel you just heard. Where your home is. And the answer is, where Christ is. To be where Christ is, that is really what it means to be “Home for the Holidays.”
Home for the holidays. Let’s go back to that cozy scene in the living room for a moment, shall we? Underneath the cheerful surface, maybe not everything is all that cozy. Your sister and brother-in-law have been fighting for months, and their marriage is in trouble. Their son is doing drugs, their daughter has anorexia. Aunt Alice–she hasn’t been diagnosed yet, but by this time next year, she won’t be around anymore. All those Christmas presents you bought? The credit card bill comes in the mail soon, and you won’t have the money to pay it. And next week the doctor will tell you that you have diabetes. Happy holidays.
But even more than that, there’s the sin and the guilt rolling around in the back of your head, squeezing in, in between the presents and the music. The thoughts you shouldn’t have. You’re a Christian, after all. The words you regret, the difference between what you should have said and what you did say. What a mess you’ve made of things. And where is God in all of this? I haven’t been feeling too close to God lately. My prayer life stinks. I feel like I’m going through the motions. What does God think of me and what kind of a Christian I’ve been? The old conscience is still active, amid the cookies and the cocoa.
So this is why Christ came at Christmas, to bring you back home to God, back home to your true home. That is why Christmas is a holiday, a holy day, a day set apart to belong to God. Because Christ is here. And where Christ is, that is a holy place and a holy time.
Home for the holidays. That is why Joseph and Mary ended up in Bethlehem, you know. They had to go to their ancestral home, traveling from Nazareth, up north, and going to the little town of Bethlehem, “the city of David,” as it was called. Joseph was one of the many multi-generation descendants of the great king David, even though the active royal rule of the Davidic line had stopped long ago. Still, being of the line of David, Bethlehem was the destination. It was home.
Except it wasn’t exactly a holiday they were going there for. It was more like a government registration, a census, for taxing purposes. God had arranged for the mighty Roman emperor to issue a decree, just to get this little insignificant family in the right town, Bethlehem, for a baby to be born.
And a strange home it would be for this particular baby. Oh, the Bethlehem location was just right. That’s where the great Messiah-King ought to be born, in the city of David. But the circumstances–hardly fitting for such a royal, divine birth. A stable, a manger, out back? No room in the Holiday Inn. The Lord of all the earth, born in such humble circumstances. Poor, lowly, far beneath his station. For, in fact, this is God’s own Son, lying in that manger.
Christ left his home in heaven to make his home here among us. Among us less than perfect people–well, let’s face it, among us sinners, the people who can put on a cheery front at a party but underneath are filled with loneliness and regret and guilt. And while we’re sitting in the living room, death is always lurking around the corner.
So this is why Christ came, and this is why Christmas is a holy day. The baby born in Bethlehem came on a heavenly mission: to save us sinners from ourselves, to redeem us from our sins, to set us free from the fear of death and condemnation. “Fear not,” the angel cries, “for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” Yes, that’s who has arrived, this baby Jesus, wrapped up in swaddling clothes like the greatest Christmas present that ever was and lying–lying under a tree, really. Under the tree of the cross, the tree that is waiting for him. To the cross the grown-up Christ would go, the sinless one dying there for sinners the likes of you and me–and your sister and brother-in-law and their kids and your Aunt Alice. A whole world full of sinners, full of guilt and hurt and great need. We needed to find our way home, back home to God, and we couldn’t get there on our own.
So Christ came to get the job done, and man, did he do it! Your sins, all paid for, the great credit card bill in the sky, all paid up. Christ’s holy blood covers it all, wipes the slate clean. The living room now really becomes a living room, people joined to Christ by faith and by baptism to his resurrection from the dead and to newness of life even now. We living-room people will live forever, together with God, at home, in his forever family.
So this living room, the church, is also God’s family room. This is where his family hangs out and gets together. This is your real home, friend. But maybe you’ve been away for a while. Well, welcome back. ’Cause no matter how far away you roam, the Lord is here, and his church is here, to welcome you back. This is home. Because this is where Christ is. The risen Lord Jesus Christ is here, here among us, present with us, giving out his Christmas presents of forgiveness, life, and salvation. All for you. The tag has your name on it. Go ahead, open it up. And there’s more under the tree.
Home for the holidays. These are holy days, aren’t they? Christmas Eve tonight, Christmas Day tomorrow. Jesus here, both times–in fact, every time we have service here in his name. This is your home, dear Christian. So make yourself at home, during this holiday season and beyond.
Home for the holidays. This is it. The church is your true home, because this is where Christ is. And he will lead us home, to our eternal home, which will be like this one, only way better. No more bad thoughts or broken relationships or death or disease to disturb the scene. Only life, all around. Only love, love for God and love for one another. And this is where it starts. Here in the family room, the living room, the church. There’s no place just like it.
Home for the holidays. Yes, for the holidays–for these holy days, and for the endless holy days to come–for the holidays you can’t beat home, sweet home.