II Christmas (A)

Thomas Wolfe says “You can’t go home again.”

But TS Eliot says,

“We shall not cease from exploration

And the end of all our exploring

Will be to arrive where we started

And know the place for the first time.”

― T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets

Which of them is right?

There are three Gospel readings to choose from for today in our lectionary. And all of them are about leaving home. The first is the story of Joseph and Mary taking Jesus into Egypt to escape from Herod. The second is the story of Jesus going with his parents to Jerusalem and getting left behind as he lingers to discuss scripture with the elders of the Temple. And the third is the story we just heard from Matthew about the wisemen leaving their homeland to follow the star to Jesus.

 

We all leave home. We get married or we move out of our parents’ house. We leave behind the things that were once the center of our lives. We get educated, we get jobs, we get married, have children; we take a thousand different journeys. And all of them take us further and further away from the innocent trust and joy of childhood. We forget that time when we lived unquestioningly in the love that surrounded us. We become grownups, serious and burdened. Oh, we can have fun, but it is never the utterly unselfconscious play that we had as little ones.

 

And we long to go home again. We long to have someone who takes care of us, to be able to live without a thought for tomorrow. We long to fall asleep on a parent’s shoulder, knowing that we will wake up safe in our own bed. But it’s impossible. We can’t ever go back to that innocent time. We can’t unlearn all the things the world has taught us. And I think one of the dangers of religion is believing that we can live a spiritual life that recaptures infancy, that God will be that parent that we lost as we grew up, that we can live a life free of responsibility or difficult choices. So maybe Thomas Wolfe is right. Maybe we are forever stranded in grown-up land, wishing for that safe and innocent place.

 

But let me suggest something else. The Magi knew what they were looking for, even though they didn’t know where they would find it or what it would look like. They were looking for a king – not just any king, but the king of the universe. They may not even have known what that meant, exactly. But they knew that the star was the sign of that king. And they knew they had to meet whoever or whatever that was. And so they left home. I imagine that they had some difficult and dangerous times on that journey. They had to leave behind the safety and security of what they knew in order to meet what was promised. And their lives would never be the same again. They could, in some sense, never go home again. But what is amazing about this story is that when the wisemen saw the baby Jesus, they recognized him. As unlikely as it may have seemed, this young child, living in a carpenter’s cottage in a far distant land, was the king of the universe. He was the promise fulfilled.

 

In some way, the wisemen were granted their deepest desire when they made their journey. It is as if they had come home – they had met the king of the universe, which was the goal of their lives, only now that they had seen him, they understood what that meant for the first time. The irony is that they had to leave home in order to understand what home really meant. Home wasn’t the place where they had grown up, it wasn’t a place at all. Home was where they met their heart’s desire, Jesus.

 

So what about you and me? What are the deepest desires of our hearts? Do we know what we are looking for, or do we even know what the signs are that will lead us to that place? For us as Christians, that deepest desire is the love of God. There is nothing short of that that we can trust with our lives. If we long for truth, for unconditional love or for pure justice, there is nowhere else to go than to Jesus.

 

But in order to find God, we have to leave home. We have to leave the innocence that keeps us from being responsible; we have to leave the world where we don’t have to make hard choices. And we have to take the journey to where God is calling us. This is true for us as individuals. It is equally true for us as a community. And if we want to find God, if we want to find the deepest desire of our hearts, we have to be ready to take a journey into new and strange places. We have to be ready to meet God in ways that we never imagined. We need to be explorers, to use TS Eliot’s word.

 

But it is a journey with a promise. God always keeps his promises. And the promise of our journey is that we will find the king of the universe, we will find our heart’s deepest desire, we will find our real home. And the promise is that we will find ourselves at home and understand what home really is.

 

We are embarking on a new year. We have a new pastor. And we have the opportunity to start new journeys or to rediscover old ones. Whatever this new adventure brings, let us make sure that we keep our eye on the star so that we can recognize the king when we find him.

 

“We shall not cease from exploration

And the end of all our exploring

Will be to arrive where we started

And know the place for the first time.”

 

Amen.

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