By Tim Shaw
Whether you prefer Perry Como’s classic version or Karen Carpenter’s catchy rendition, “(There’s No Place Like) Home for the Holidays” captures well the nostalgia many people experience during the season. I remember each year of college I went home for Christmas, my family told me, repeatedly, “It’s so good to have you back home.” And it was good to be home—but there was always something lacking. I think that’s because the concept of “home” is so complex. Tim Keller writes: “The strong feelings that surround [home] reveal some deep longing within us for a place that absolutely fits and suits us, where we can be, or perhaps find, our true selves. Yet it seems that no real place or actual family ever satisfies those yearnings, though many situations arouse them” (The Prodigal God). Do you know what he means? Have you ever felt like this?
It’s easy to relate to stories of protagonists who find themselves in exile trying to get home. Harry Potter, an orphan forced to live under his Aunt and Uncle’s staircase, suffers many hardships but finds a semblance of home at Hogwarts. Frodo and Sam leave the relative safety of the Shire, endure a long exile culminating in the destruction of the One Ring, and then learn the Shire has been essentially destroyed in the war. While in Oz, Dorothy learns the phrase “there’s no place like home” is her ticket back to Kansas.
In a spiritual sense we are all exiles, and this is even more profound than being physically displaced from our homes. Jesus describes this in his parable of the two sons. Quoting Keller again: “We are all like the younger brother. We are all exiles, always longing for home. We are always traveling, never arriving. The houses and families we actually inhabit are only inns along the way, but they aren’t home. Home continues to evade us.” Indeed, this longing for home has typified the human experience ever since God removed his children from the Garden. Like Adam and Eve, we live outside of our true home yet long to return.
What, then, are we to do? In her 1969 hit song “Woodstock,” Joni Mitchell sums up worldly wisdom with this answer: “we’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden.” I’m so thankful she’s wrong—there’s no way I could do that by myself. Instead, Christ left his home and lived in exile. “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (Mt. 8:20). Why did he come? “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9). What did it cost him? “The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (Jn. 10:11).
As we await his Second Advent, may our hearts be filled with the immeasurable love and surpassing beauty of Christ. May our longing be for our true home—Christ himself is its glory and dwells there with our Father. “There would I find a settled rest, while others go and come; no more a stranger, or a guest, but like a child at home” (Isaac Watts).