Sermons That Work

Home, Christmas 2 – 2000

January 02, 2000


Last Sunday we focused on the reality that we are allowed little time at the manger. If the Christmas créche is still placed in the liturgical space of your church, today might be a good time for moving the Holy Family to another place in the building, symbolizing their journey to Egypt. Children would especially enjoy doing this as a way of acting out the Gospel reading.

How terrible it must be to have to flee your homeland because somebody wants you dead. This is an experience far too familiar to many people in Rwanda, Bosnia, Lebanon, and parts of the former Soviet Union, for example. Some of these people have been in exile for many years, and are still waiting for a time they can go home. The story of the flight of the Holy Family into Egypt should be one we know well; one that helps all of us identify with the plight of all refugees.

The Collect for this Second Sunday of Christmas praises God “who wonderfully created, and yet more wonderfully restored, the dignity of human nature.” In the Baptismal Covenant from the Book of Common Prayer we pledge to “strive for justice and peace…and respect the dignity of every human being.” The reality of the world’s frequent failure to either praise God for the restoring of human dignity in Jesus Christ or to respect the dignity of every human being is a chief concern for Christians. Anything we do, whether it is contributing to the feeding and clothing of the homeless or advocating for humane care and repatriation of refugees, is a direct response to Jesus and our covenant with him in Baptism.

The Episcopal Church maintains a refugee resettlement office because of our commitment to the justice of caring for those forced to flee their homelands. We do this ecumenically so we can multiply the ministry we have with other people of faith.

How can your community address the worldwide needs for safe havens for those whose only wrong is their location when political decisions force them to find a new home?

It was a cloudy afternoon in late February when the plane landed at a regional airport in a sparsely settled area of the Great Plains. A few anxious people from a farming community stood by the gate as the commuter flight rolled to a stop. The door opened and out stepped a family of refugees from Southeast Asia. They had been in a resettlement camp for some time. The parents were weary, and their three children all had signs of vitamin deficiency. They were quietly greeted and taken to their new home, a basement apartment with a refrigerator stocked full of fresh food. Shelves bulged with canned goods and clothing. In a few weeks the father was employed in a local feed mill. Within a year he had purchased and negotiated an FHA loan for a house. The children were enrolled in school and doing well.

This story happened because a group of people working together ecumenically decided they needed to do something for refugees. If it happened in a rural farming community on the Great Plains, it can happen where you live. One mark of church vitality, regardless of size, is how it responds to the needs of the community and the world.

There is another theme in today’s lessons that we benefit from hearing about; that is the theme of exile and return. The prophet, Jeremiah, writes about the remnant of Israel returning from exile. He describes them as a ragtag company of scattered people whose mourning will be turned into joy. Surely one great theme we have to proclaim to all in exile is hope, the promise that one day all people will restored to their rightful homeland. This is the vision that keeps refugee resettlement workers going. And what about those who can never return?

Well, there is another level from which we can gather hope: the spiritual exile in which all of us live makes us fellow travelers with all who are refugees. We live in a world that promises us every creature comfort, but doesn’t satisfy our deepest desire, to be home- spiritually home with our God. Christians know they are in exile, and that while in this abiding place we are all refugees from our true spiritual home. The earth, and all the created order, is only a shadow of what God intends for us. Our true home is the place we have yet to arrive; and when we do we will know we are truly home. The refugee experience of the Holy Family, while a politically generated event, reminds us that even the Savior had nowhere to call home on this earth.

Many of us have just returned from a Christmas holiday that may have included a visit “home.” It may have been wonderful, slightly saddening, or quite comfortable. One thing, though, it wasn’t the same. There were changes, however slight, that made us nostalgic for better times. But, that only helps us get in touch with our true situation; that as children of God we aren’t ever going to be truly home until God calls us, restores us, and brings us there. Meanwhile, our Savior is one who himself began his life as a homeless person, and became the person in whom every heart can find a home. Truly, God has restored in him the dignity of human nature. Thanks be to God!

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Christopher Sikkema

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