By Jane Fryar
In all kinds of ways, this time of year evokes thoughts about the road home. Where does that road lead you?
In my own heart, the road home will always lead across a windswept Iowa prairie under a leaden sky. As I drive, I hear the damp air whispering hoarse rumors of an approaching blizzard. In the twilight, the gravel crunches beneath my tires, a sound that signals the five-miles-and-you’ve-made-it point in a day-long journey. Relief and a simmering pot of homemade chili await me in my mother’s kitchen as suppertime nears. I breathe a sigh of relief as my heart strains to catch the first rays of light from the windows of home.
Mom’s in heaven now, I live near my family in the metro St. Louis area, and the farmhouse that sheltered me for decades now opens its arms to other children seeking refuge from freezing rain. Still, whenever I hear the word home, that one front door that opened into Thanksgiving and Christmas so long ago springs instantly to mind.
John the Baptizer had more than a warm meal and family affection in mind as he shouted out the homecoming invitation that stood all Judea and most of Galilee on its head. He repeated the warnings and promises proclaimed by the prophets that had preceded him, but the repetition came with a renewed sense of urgency. Heaven’s High King had prepared a wedding feast for his Son, and the banquet was about to begin.
That Son lay as a sweet human baby in Bethlehem’s manger, swathed in strips of cloth and cradled in his mother’s arms. That Son grew up to die a gory death on Calvary’s cross. That Son would pay the incalculable debt that we, the Father’s rebellious children, had amassed by our sins.
In doing all this, the world’s Messiah not only opened for us the highway home, he himself became that highway. “I am the way . . .” he declared. There is no other. “No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6 ESV).
Sadly, as in the day of John and the messengers of the Most High who came before him, still today many of the Father’s lost and straying children don’t know how to find that Way, the way home. Some, made cynical by lives lived in a world of hurt, don’t want to let themselves believe the highway even exists. Some, having lost count of the times they have run away from home, believe they will never again be welcome on the Highway of Holiness. Some, busy with the toys and trivia of their lives, have forgotten how much they need their Father’s forgiveness, how much they miss their Brother’s embrace.
Away in a Manger
Jesus spent the first Christmas - and the 33 that followed that first one - away from home. He spent it away from heaven, away from the Father’s throne, away from the angel choirs and the praises that rightfully belonged to him. He spent it away - in a manger - to make it possible for all the Father’s scattered children to come home for Christmas, home forever.
How fitting, then, for those of us who have known the joy of seeing the heavenly Father’s smile, to find ways this time of year to share the hope of homecoming with those who find themselves lost, alienated, or alone. How might you and the members of your church or ministry group do that?
For one thing, you might consider simple ways to use activities you have already planned as opportunities for more intentionally connecting with those who live in your community. How might you help your neighbors feel more welcome at your yearly choir concert or children’s Christmas service? How might you invite new Americans in your neighborhood, those who may or may not know Jesus, to “come home for Christmas” in their new country?
Here’s a second idea. Some congregations have used CTA’s Christmas cards to extend a hand of welcome and a simple Christ-focused witness at Christmas time. Each one comes with an Ornament of Faith® and a white envelope. Churches mail (or hand deliver) the cards to the households in the area around the church, enclosing in each card an invitation to attend Advent and Christmas services to learn more about the gifts God gave on the first Christmas and continues to give today.
Whatever you decide to do, let the love of the Christ Child lead you. Keep it simple, but sincere. Focus on Jesus, not on “our congregation.” And involve as many people - adults and children, teens and grandparents, leaders and laity - as you can. When everyone understands the why behind the what you are doing, it’s much easier for them to take advantage of unexpected opportunities that arise along the way.
You are welcome to copy this article for one-time use when you include this credit line and receive no monetary benefit from it: © 2018 CTA, Inc. Used with permission.