Home for Christmas

By: Commissioner Kelly Igleheart

Luke 4:16 begins the story of Jesus returning home. The Bible says, “He went to Nazareth, where he was brought up.” Most of us can relate to returning home and especially going home for the holidays. Sometimes we sing along with Karen Carpenter, “O there’s no place like home for the holidays, cause, no matter how far away you roam…” Or maybe you prefer Bing Crosby’s, “I’ll be home for Christmas…if only in my dreams.” As a Salvation Army officer, I always looked forward to going home, especially at Christmas.

Surely when Jesus went home, He walked a familiar dusty road. The closer to home He came, His paced quickened and a smile etched across His face. Happy memories rushed His mind, like playing in the village of Nazareth with His childhood friends. The sweet smells of His home. The taste of Mom’s cooking. The warm embrace of loved ones and the hug that said, “Welcome home. We’ve missed you.”

After Jesus arrived and on the Sabbath, He went to the synagogue, as was His custom. A synagogue is not a temple but rather a gathering place or assembly hall, much smaller and considerably cruder in its construction but where the poor gathered. Sacrifices were made at the Temple, but not here. Here the Bible was read and prayers offered. While Jesus was home, the entire village must have turned up to hear their hometown hero. Ahead of His arrival, the news spread about Him, and everyone was eager to hear Joseph and Mary’s boy. Everyone must have had a sense of pride and probably took some credit for His life. After all, it takes a village.

But as happy and expectant as everyone was, I wonder how Jesus was feeling? He knew the message that was to come. He knew what the response was going to be from those who loved Him. On that day the walk to the synagogue seemed a little longer, more focused, and perhaps with a heavy heart. Those sitting on the benches, and others listening from the overflow outside may have urged Jesus to speak and to read from Isaiah. Everyone stared at Him and leaned forward to absorb every word like they had never heard them before. Jesus proclaimed:

Good News to the poor

Captives are to be set free

The blind shall see

The Lord’s favor is to come.

Surely amens, hallelujahs, and high fives sprang up throughout the hall, spilling into the street. It was the message they had waited to hear for centuries! It was the best of times. Jesus finished reading, walked over to His appointed spot and sat down. As quickly as He began, He finished.

Most preachers/teachers would have ended there. Leave them wanting more! That kind of sermon would bring others in. With Jesus at the helm, a bigger hall would soon be needed. If only He had quit while He was ahead. Within a few sentences, six verses, everything changed. The crowd eroded into a murder seeking mob! What really happened?

Jesus reminded them of two stories that they all knew very well. Verses 25-27, He told them the Elijah and Elisha story. It’s that the good news and the Lord’s favor is moving away from those who expect it (the Jews), to those who didn’t deserve it (the Gentiles). Jesus adds to the narrative these words, “There were many widows and many lepers, but the prophets were not sent to them.” What is happening here? What is the message that they are receiving? In both stories, Jesus demonstrated how God chose to bless the outsiders, the very enemies of Israel. Both Sidon and Syria were the oppressors and occupiers of Israel. Jesus was proclaiming freedom and blessing to both the insiders and outsiders.

The Good News is that everyone is invited into the Kingdom of God! Both the Jew and the Gentile alike. He was saying that the Kingdom of God is big enough for all ethnic groups, all cultures, all social classes, and across all social barriers. No one can place the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit into a predetermined box. No one can instruct God on who to bless and who not to bless. No one can command Him to show up here and not there. We have no rights to expect a miracle because of our status in the church or as believers. God loves and God blesses whomever He wants! He receives illegal immigrants, atheist, racist, bigots, liars, thieves, gossips, Muslims, Hindu, Democrats, and Republicans. This sacred text reminds us that no one is born Christ’s’ special people to the exclusion of others.

Think of the Christmas story. In it appears Caesar Augustus, a career politician, a womanizer, and a murderer. Mary the mother of Jesus was a teenage girl who was pregnant and not married. Shepherds, who were considered the lowest class of people. A hard-hearted inn keeper who made no room available. And the Magi coming from the East, the wise men were also pagan astrologers. God delights in flipping the expected and opens His Kingdom for the whomsoever.

I pray that this Christmas season that you find your way home and your place in the Christmas story where everyone is welcome.