This is the seventh reflection in the Missio Advent series. Read the rest here.
“For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.” 2 Corinthians 5:4
During the season of Advent, our hearts are awakened to our deepest longings for home. In remembering the Child who came to us, we recall as well that in spite of all of the lights, the tinsel, and the noise, our hearts will only be fully alive when we make our home with Him.
After spending three years living in the Middle East, my family and I are back in the United States, readjusting to the all-pervasive culture of Christmas that surfaces in late October. After leaving a country in which Christ-followers account for less than 3 per cent of the population, we have entered a “Christian” culture that distracts itself with Black Friday, Cyber Monday, lawn decorations, holiday entertaining, and ski vacations. I find myself having to pare down the layers of holiday cheer to re-discover once again not only the who but the why in this Christmas season.
An advertisement that aired years ago for Maxwell House coffee features a son’s unannounced visit to his parent’s house early Christmas morning. He starts a pot of coffee, after which the mom and dad wander into the kitchen. They are shocked and elated, and the homecoming scene that results pricks at even the most hardened heart. This commercial reminds us that at Christmas, our hearts always turn towards where we truly belong–home. It hints at the eternal reality of our deepest desires for belonging and rest.
At Christmastime, we seek out family members, those both near and far, because we realize at Christmas that we were made to relate and connect, to be set in families (Psalm 68), and to belong. As broken and sometimes estranged as we have become, the longing is still there. As members of His Body, we celebrate and groan towards that day when we can finally come home.
With my husband called to work and serve on another continent for a year, we face a season of separation during Advent and Christmas. Thanks to internet-based communications programs, we connect daily with the ability to both see and hear one another. Pixilated images and voices transmitted digitally, though a blessing, cannot replace the comfort and closeness of physical presence. In my heart, the longing for my husband’s homecoming grows stronger each day. Being apart from my best friend creates an ache and a hollowness that feels insatiable.
In this season, there is grace. Because of my own pain and the experience of separation, I have come to recognize the paradox inherent in Christ’s coming to this earth. Christ Jesus had to leave His home with the Father and with perfect communion, in order to bring us home. We know that in order to fully identify with humankind, He had to set aside His glory and His heavenly dwelling and take on an earthly frame. He thus became for us a High Priest who is in every way able to empathize with our brokenness (Hebrews 4:15).
We are raw with longing because in our sinful natures we have become spiritual exiles. Timothy Keller explains in his book The Prodigal God, the Divine exchange in which Christ took on our alienation, “He was expelled from the presence of the Father, he was thrust into the darkness, the uttermost despair of spiritual alienation– in our place . . . cosmic homelessness so that we could be welcomed into our true home” (Keller, 102).
The Christmas narrative tells us of a Father who sends his Son away from home, a bittersweet paradox. Yet it resonates around the world to the reality of our age, from Syrian refugees who continue to stream across borders; to multitudes of men, women, and children who are evacuated to places outside of the span of a ravaging typhoon in the Philippines, and to families who are separated from one another, both physically and spiritually, during this Christmas season.
The Advent message, with the truth of the coming Christ Child, gives hope to all humankind. The reconciliation with Christ and the indwelling Holy Spirit are glimpses of the homecoming that is to come when we receive our inheritance– an eternity of knowing Christ fully, even as we are fully known. In becoming homeless, Christ was opening the way for a gift that will exceed anyone’s wildest imaginations- eternal life with God that will satiate forever our deepest cries for love, belonging and security.
And that is the true story of homecoming.
Adrienne Shore has been married to her best friend and globetrotting partner for almost seventeen years. After making her home in four continents, five countries and nine houses, she and her five children are currently living in the Southeast region of the United States.