What comes to your mind when you hear the word, ‘home’? Is it a place you inhabit, or maybe a group of people? Perhaps it was the house in which you grew up. Or maybe, just maybe, you feel like Billy Joel who sang, “I never had a place that I could call my very own; but that’s alright love, ‘cause you’re my home”. In other words, ‘home’ is embodied in a special person.
Not too long ago, My Uncle Lou passed away. His parents immigrated from Italy. Uncle Lou held a constitutional conviction that ‘home’ meant food, wine and parties. In the early evening, my family would pile into our car and drive to Uncle Lou‘s house. Other family members, from different corners of Pittsburgh, would also converge at the appointed time. Uncle Lou’s home would swell with people as the family piled in, adults descending to the basement and kids deployed towards the living room. We moved as everyone knew their assigned place. Eventually the adults would reach a level of relaxed detachment where the kids were invited to join them. And if all the stars aligned just right, Uncle Lou would break out his accordion.
Would to God that every person in the world had an Italian Uncle who played the accordion! I think our best shot at peace is to throw world leaders together for a night with an accordion-riffing Italian uncle. When the instrument came out at Uncle Lou’s, the singing would commence, a few folks might dance, and we cildren would sit back and marvel that adults could have so much fun.
When I hear the word ‘home’, I sometimes think of accordions and Uncle Lou.
What about you? Is it a place, a time, an address, a person? What comes to your mind when you hear the word ‘home’.
Home For Jesus
I was thinking about this question recently as I was reading a well-known Christmas passage.
“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men”. (Phil. 2: 5 – 7)
One alluring quality to this passage is how it connects ‘home’ to Christmas. But not in the “I’ll-Be-Home-For-Christmas” sense, or the final scene of It’s A Wonderful Life where Harry stands in the Bailey home toasting his brother, “To my big brother George, the richest man in town”. No, the prestige of the incarnation lies in an irony. For many of us, Christmas represents the idea of coming home. But for the Savior, Christmas meant leaving home.
“Having the mind” Paul calls for starts with wading into the deeper end of the Christmas pool. After all, it’s pretty easy to reduce Christmas down to the story-friendly parts – you know, shepherds, wise men, angels, a manger, etc. But before Jesus arrived on earth he had an infinitely delightful experience of home. The Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit – The Trinity – all co-existed in the ultimate experience of relationship and community, joyfully enthralled with every millisecond of their union. And equally amazing is that the glorious impulse that pervaded God’s being; the divine quality that coursed through each Person of the Trinity…was LOVE. Think about that: An unending deluge of irrepressible acceptance & unstoppable affection that sparked ecstatic delight in their experience with each other.
Doesn’t sound much like your family, does it? I know, I feel the same way. For many of us, ‘family time’ often includes tensions, conflict, non-communication, and skeletons in the closet that refuse to remain hidden. In a fallen world, drama gushes when families gather.
But that’s my point. Jesus had no ugly drama before coming to earth. Only perfect love, glorious honor, and unending prerogatives as the Son in the Trinity. Christ’s pre-incarnate existence was spectacular, unrelenting, and deliciously magnificent. When the White Witch cast her spell on Narnia, C.S. Lewis described Narnian life as ‘always winter, never Christmas’. Within the Trinity, every millisecond was Christmas morning!
Then God became flesh.
Love moved the Son to make some changes. He decided ‘not to count equality with God as a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself.” Divinity took on humanity in a union of nature and existence. But Christ’s divinity remained cloaked, like a hidden superpower, except infinitely more splendid. In doing so, Jesus, out of his boundless love for us, miraculously laid aside certain things to come to earth. The glory he had in his pre-incarnate experience of the Trinity (John 17: 4), the treasure of his heavenly home (2 Cor 8: 9), the independent exercise of His will as Son (John 5: 30), the use of certain privileges like Omniscience (Mark 13: 32), and the unbreakable experience of joy-filled communion with his Father (Mark 15: 34), just to name a few.
Theologians speak of the hypostatic union and kenotic theories, but for our purposes, we need to know only one thing: The Son’s experience of ‘home’ changed.
Christmas = Family?
Christmas is built around family, and for that I am grateful. I love decorating our house, enjoying loved ones, buying gifts (well, maybe I mean ‘getting’ gifts). For many of us, Christmas means going home. But for Jesus, Christmas meant leaving home! He arrived on earth as a heavenly immigrant – dependent, naked, poor, the child of a woman who had been scandalized, at least in her fiancé’s mind, with the stigma of an unwed pregnancy.
I’m not looking to spark a riot, but if we truly wanted to experience Christmas, at least in keeping with the original story, things would look different. We would not unite with family, we would leave them. We would empty ourselves of the places where we feel safe and loved and relocate to a foreign land, far away from our greatest delights. Then we would arrive there to discover there was ‘no room at the Inn’.
Make no mistake, at the heart of Christmas is Jesus leaving home.
Christmas = Home!
“He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” John 1: 11-12
John pulls back the veil on why Christ left home. To all who would receive Him, he gave the right to experience a radical redefinition of family. Jesus came to earth on a mission to make us children of God. This reality gives focus to the wondrous news of Christ’s self-emptying sacrifices for His people. It paints Dec 25th with something more amazing than mangers and wise men. Christmas becomes an annual reminder that Christ left heaven to bring us home.
This news goes way beyond goods, to utterly remarkable. As Christians, we ache for our real home. Every year Christmas stirs these conflicting expectations for joy, love, community, and family that never quite deliver as advertised. It’s like that kid on Christmas morning who unwraps his first gift, like an addict finding a fix, only to toss it aside and move on to the next gift. The experience of receiving gifts and quality time with the family never truly lives up to our sense of anticipation.
One reason is because when Jesus makes us “children of God” (v. 12), we long to be with our Heavenly Father. Each year Christmas surfaces an ache; a kind of heart-embedded homesickness. Within our soul there’s an inner radar. A soul-sonar, if you will, that detects the ping from a distant home, from a perfect family. We are homesick for the place we were created to occupy – our permanent home with our Father.
So each Christmas, we sit with family wanting to satisfy our deepest longings. But we do so only to discover that we sometimes burden our earthly family with a weight of expectations upon which they cannot deliver. It’s because we were made for another home. Christmas with our family is the shadow, not the substance. It’s a magnificent reminder each year that Christ left heaven to bring us home.
Christmas = The Wait
We started by asking, what comes to your mind when you hear the word ‘home’? Don’t be surprised over the next week if you feel both at home, and homesick; both anticipation and disappointment. It’s the tension that arrives with each and every Christmas. And it will last as long as we draw breath in a fallen world. This Christmas I am reminded that uncles and accordions all pass. But in the season of Advent, we taste a slice of the future. A reminder sent from heaven that we are not yet home.
My prayer for your family, and for mine as well, is that you will move through the next two weeks –whether they are weeks of joy or sadness; glad reunions or painful reminders – remembering one thing that makes Christmas merry for us all:
Christ left heaven to bring us home.