You Can’t Go Home Again

John 1:1-18:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was in the beginning with God. 3All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.

5The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.6There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him.8He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. 9The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. 10He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. 12But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. 14And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

15(John testified to him and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’”)16From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.”

I’ll never forget the very first time I went back home to visit after being away at college for a few months.  (The weirdest feeling was being able to shower without flip flops on!)  I was 6 hours away at Butler University, so getting back home to Knoxville, TN was not easy or convenient, nor did it happen very often.  But after spending 18 years of my life in Knoxville, it would always be “home” to me- where my parents were, where my old bedroom was, where all of the childhood memories would come back to me.  I will still never forget that first trip home after being away at college because I remember realizing that going home would never really be the same again.  Everything seemed just slightly different- it was still home, but in many ways, it was not- things change, people change, I had changed- but one thing stayed the same, and that was the warm welcome I received from my family who looked forward to my homecoming and who welcomed me with open arms.

Even now when I am going to Knoxville to visit my family, I catch myself saying that I am going “home” and then ask myself, “what is ‘home’ anyway?”  Home is the place where we feel safe, where we belong, where we are accepted for who we are, where we can be ourselves, a place where the door is always open.  Home can be a house, a place where we grew up, where we live now, or “home” can be people, a community, an atmosphere, a time and space that feels like family to you.  Can you picture it?  Home is a place to which we long to return, and many await loved ones to come home.  Take a look at this story of a little girl whose one Christmas wish was for someone to come home.

On this second Sunday of Christmas, we are just winding down our preparations and celebrations for Jesus’ homecoming.  We spent the last 4 weeks lighting the Advent wreath, singing songs about anticipating God’s coming to earth, we reflected upon what it means to receive Emmanuel, God with us, into our hearts and lives, we decorated our sanctuary and talked about the symbols of Advent and Christmas- the preparations were made for Jesus to dwell among us, and finally, on Christmas Eve, we rejoiced together at Jesus’ homecoming as we sang “Silent Night” and lifted our candles to celebrate the light of the world.  That is, after all, what the miracle of Christmas is- that Jesus comes home and lives among us- that our preparations have not been in vain- that the Word who was with God and was God came back to the people.  The Word became flesh and lived among us.  And today, on Epiphany Sunday, we celebrate the light that has come into the world, and that the darkness did not overcome it.  We celebrate with the magi that we are given a heavenly sign of a star that leads us to the true light of the world if we only choose to follow it.  Yes, these are the miracles of Christmas- that Jesus has come home to dwell among us, and that the light of the world has come.

But according to our text today, there is a big problem- Jesus comes to what was his own, and the people did not accept him or recognize him- he was not received at home.  Instead of parties or homecomings, there are misunderstandings, confrontations…there is a cross.  Instead of a joyful reunion, there are moments of loneliness and emptiness.  It’s not what we expect or want, is it?  We long for a reunion such as the little girl and her dad in the video- we long for a homecoming that is worthy of our Savior.  But the reality hits that Jesus did not have a place to call home.  We might imagine what it would have been like if the little girl did not recognize her dad when he took the Santa beard off or if she wasn’t excited at all to see him.  For her dad, there would have been sadness, loneliness, emptiness.  I imagine this is what Jesus must have felt like to realize that his own people did not know him and did not welcome him home.

So maybe it’s true what Thomas Wolfe said, “You can’t go home again.”  Apparently, not even Jesus could go home again!  In the midst of our preparations for his homecoming, it’s as if the guest of honor finally shows up, and no one even realizes it, no one welcomes him, no one acknowledges his presence.  Jesus came home again, but no one bothered to open the door.  In our text today, a few things become clear about why this is:

-Many people were not ready to receive Jesus- they were content with life as it was, not concerned about a change in the world, not looking for a chance to welcome in new life and light.  They were expecting someone else- a different kind of Messiah.  They turned a blind eye to the unexpected.

-Many people felt unprepared- they hadn’t had a chance to clean up their lives or prepare themselves mentally and spiritually for the light of the world.

-Many thought that Jesus would need to be impressed- that all needed to be made perfect, pure, and clean.

-Many perhaps underestimated just how willing Jesus was to enter into their lives- they were not prepared for a Savior that simply accepted us for who we are, who walked among the clean and unclean and declared forgiveness and righteousness for all, who preached grace to even the worst of sinners.  His people were not ready to accept the transforming love and forgiveness that Jesus brought home with him.  (Homiletics)

Today, this second Sunday of Christmas, we acknowledge that the preparations have been made and that we have rejoiced at the Savior’s birth.  But we also confess that there are times when we have not welcomed Jesus home.  There are times when we have not opened our hearts or our doors to him.  There are times when we have neglected to welcome the stranger, the person who is different even when we are reminded that by doing this, we welcome Jesus himself.  There are times when we have encountered glimpses of God or the light of Christ, but have turned away or refused to acknowledge him.  There are times when we have not recognized Christ or the image of God in another person.  There are times when we simply do not have eyes to see the Christ that is in front of us.  For those times, O Lord, we ask forgiveness.

We also call to mind those who might not feel welcomed into our churches- those persons who for whatever reason, feel that church is not a safe and welcoming community for them.  How can we do better as a church?  How can we make sure that all are welcomed here and find a home and community in this place?  We begin by welcoming Jesus into our midst and recognizing that he comes among us in many forms.  We continue by acknowledging that Jesus welcomed all into his open arms, and that we, in turn, should do the same.  We confess the times that we have not welcomed the stranger or outcast, and look to our Savior for guidance as we continue our own journey to be more like him.  We continue by opening the doors of not just the church, but also the doors of our hearts, minds, and spirits.  We put our words into action by reaching out to the community and letting them know that yes, you have a home here- that the God who welcomes us all welcomes you here.  God welcomes you home.

When we open the doors of our hearts to accept Jesus, we are told that we receive grace upon grace, as we are reminded, But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.”  This is the key to a happy homecoming- “spirits that are ready to receive and hearts that are open to believe.  If people aren’t open to receiving, the gift is offered in vain.” (Homiletics)  So we must take that first step in being willing to let Christ into our lives, into our homes, into our communities.  We must have open eyes to see what is in front of us- not letting our own expectations or the way that we think things should be get in the way of experiencing the truth that is found in the Word who became flesh and lived among us.

There may be truth in the famous quote that, “You can’t go home again.”  But there is another quote that says, “Home is where the heart is.”  The good news in all of this is that even though Jesus was not known by his own people as the light coming into the world, he still came.  He still lived among us.  He is still here.  If home is where the heart is, he came home because his heart is with us, among us, within and through us.  This grace upon grace is given to us as gift, even if we do not receive him with open arms, even though we have times where there is no welcome, no room, no recognition.  If home is where the heart is, then Jesus is still here bringing the light into the world so that the darkness does not overcome it.  The good news of John 1 is that despite of ourselves, Jesus comes to bring light and life to all the people.  We may not always welcome Jesus home with open arms, but he is ready and willing to welcome each of us.

The miracle of Christmas lies in Jesus’ coming to dwell among us even though there are times we may not recognize him.  As we begin a new year, the challenge that we hear for today is that we need to be open to the many faces, experiences, and encounters with Christ our Savior, the light of the world.  We need to be willing to welcome him home into our midst, just as he welcomes each of us.  In turn, we must be willing to open our hearts and our doors to those who are seeking a home, a warm welcome, a place where people can be themselves and accepted just as they are.

Maybe it’s true that you can’t go home again because home is always changing- we are always changing- people (in general) are always changing.  But we are reminded that God is constantly transforming and changing us for the better if we only welcome God into our lives.  In turn, we are to be constantly preparing and reshaping a home for new people and new experiences that lead us to embody the welcoming nature of Christ.  Home has many meanings, people, and places and it is constantly changing and evolving, but home is always where a warm welcome is to be found.  Christ comes to make his home among us.  The question is, how will we make room for him?  Amen.

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