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Home for the Holidays12 min read

everyone went to their own town …” (Luke 2:3*)

Folgers Coffee ads still get to me, I admit. Different ads for a plethora of promising products can tug on the heartstrings when they have a college student or soldier returning home for the holidays. But I especially liked the 2009 Folgers Christmas TV ad in which the brother comes home from West Africa and his sister—who has been waiting all night by a snow-laced window—excitedly greets him. They, of course, retreat to the kitchen where the smell of freshly brewed coffee greets them … and soon wakes their parents who join the “home-coming.”

Ahhhhh. Nothing quite like being home for the holidays.

Some of our Christmas memories are idealized … but others, like when our family would drive (after my father was done preaching at the 11 p.m. Christmas Eve Service) from Wisconsin to Western New York to “the farm” (a dairy farm where my mother was born) are quite real (and almost idolized). My brother and I would wake up early on Christmas Day, help with chores in the barn, and listen to Christmas hymns, and sermons, readings, and Concertos on public radio. All this in a barn/stable with all the sounds and smells and accompanying reflections of the Son of God being born in such a place. Carrying steamy milk to the “milk house” through the crunchy snow, seeing the warm light from the old farmhouse kitchen window where grandma’s breakfast would include eggs, bacon, fried onions, and homemade bread/toast, and imagining the fun and (more) food and laughter of family and friends later in the day … “Could anything on earth be better?” I wondered.

God does give us very special times and these wonder-filled memories of the past are truly gifts of His grace. However, I want to acknowledge that not all people have such memories. Indeed, when there’s been a loss of someone near and dear or something significant in our life, the holidays can be a most difficult time to face or traverse. In fact, you might want to do nothing more than just stay at “home for the holidays.” You have a very different view of the Advent and Christmas season with very diverse, perhaps, painful memories.

With both possibilities—or anything in between—in mind, I would invite you to join me in considering when (and why) Jesus came “home” on that “holy-day,” that first Christmas.

Jesus Came Into Your World

First, Jesus came to make His home … in our world. Sent by God, being fully God, Jesus took upon Himself our human flesh and blood, body and spirit to relate to us, to communicate with us, to take care of us and our greatest need—the forgiveness of our sins which alone brings true life—becoming Immanuel, “God with us.”

John’s Gospel, in chapter 1, puts it like this: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:1–5). Or the great Apostle Paul, in his most joyous of letters, writes of Jesus: “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness” (Philippians 2:6–7).

The Gospel would also tell us that “our world” is most definitely also “your” world. Your world with you in it, you and all your weaknesses, frailties, and propensities to worry or be envious, or … A long list of sins could be filled in and probably not all that much different for each of us, except for their order of significance and dominance. But Jesus would say to you, “Yes, I AM the world’s Savior and Redeemer. But I love you with an everlasting love and want to be your Savior and Redeemer! Yes, I know and love everyone you know. I want to be their Savior and Redeemer and Lord as well!”

What the disciples came to know and believe, and through the same inspiring Holy Spirit write about, is who, by grace, we have come to know, believe, and confess: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).

God’s love for the world in Christ—His love for you—is truly Good News! I am reminded of the Apostle Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 3:14–19, where he remembers that every family in heaven and on earth is named and known by God: “For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (ESV).

Thank you, Jesus, for coming to this world that you made but that rebelled in sin and consequently brought death to everyone and everything.

A Home in Your Heart

Secondly, Jesus came to make His home … in your heart. John also writes in his Gospel: “Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God” (John 1:12).

Later, in chapter 3, verses 3 and 7, John will talk about the necessity of being “born again.” It is indeed God that gives this new birth by grace through faith.  This new life is from God and is in intimate relationship with God. Paul especially makes this clear in his proclamation of what happens in Baptism in Romans 6:4 and the surrounding context. (Let me urge you to take the time to read Romans 6:1–14 and note all the personal pronouns and the tenses of the verbs).

God does come to live within us (Galatians 2:20). As only Luther could express it, in a hymn written for Christmas he prays:

Ah, dearest Jesus, holy Child,

Make Thee a bed, soft, undefiled

Within my heart, that it may be

A quiet chamber kept for Thee.

Then, with a recognition of what such a saving relationship does for the believing child of God, Luther expresses the redeemed desire and will to sing and praise and give witness to God.

My heart for very joy doth leap,

My lips no more can silence keep;

I, too, must sing with joyful tongue,

That sweetest ancient cradle song.

(These lyrics appear in the later stanzas of the Christmas Hymn From Heaven Above to Earth I Come, penned by Martin Luther in 1535.)

Considering the personal, intimate love of God for His children, and the similar relationship that God desires and creates with His children, I am reminded of a story that might help color and illustrate these truths.

In 1994, two Americans answered an invitation from the Russian Department of Education to teach morals and ethics (based on biblical principles) in the public schools. (Oh, that we could do that in the United States today. Think about it. That was just 34 years ago.) They were invited to teach at prisons, businesses, the fire and police departments, and a large orphanage.

About 100 boys and girls who had been abandoned, abused, and left in the care of a government-run program were in the orphanage. They relate the following story in their own words:

It was nearing the holiday season, 1994, time for our orphans to hear for the first time the traditional story of Christmas. We told them about Mary and Joseph arriving in Bethlehem. Finding no room in the inn, the couple went to a stable, where the baby Jesus was born and placed in a manger.

Throughout the story, the children and orphanage staff sat in amazement as they listened. Some sat on the edges of their stools, trying to grasp every word.

Completing the story, we gave the children three small pieces of cardboard to make a crude manger. Each child was given a small paper square, cut from yellow napkins I had brought with me. No colored paper was available in the city. Following instructions, the children tore the paper and carefully laid strips in the manger for straw. Small squares of flannel (cut from a worn-out nightgown an American lady was throwing away as she left Russia) were used for the baby’s blanket. A doll-like baby was cut from tan felt we had brought from the United States.

The orphans were busy assembling their manger as I walked among them to see if they needed any help. All went well until I got to one table where little Misha sat—he looked to be about 6 years old and had finished his project. As I looked at the little boy’s manger, I was startled to see not one, but two babies in the manger.

Quickly, I called for the translator to ask the lad why there were two babies in the manger. Crossing his arms in front of him and looking at his completed manger scene, the child began to repeat the story very seriously. For such a young boy, who had only heard the Christmas story once, he related the happenings accurately—until he came to the part where Mary put the baby Jesus in the manger.

Then Misha started to ad lib. He made up his own ending to the story as he said, “And when Maria laid the baby in the manger, Jesus looked at me and asked me if I had a place to stay. I told him I have no mamma and I have no papa, so I don’t have any place to stay. Then Jesus told me I could stay with him. But I told him I couldn’t, because I didn’t have a gift to give him like everybody else did. But I wanted to stay with Jesus so much, so I thought about what I had that maybe I could use for a gift. I thought maybe if I kept him warm, that would be a good gift. So I asked Jesus, “If I keep you warm, will that be a good enough gift?” And Jesus told me, “If you keep me warm, that will be the best gift anybody ever gave me.” “So I got into the manger, and then Jesus looked at me and he told me I could stay with him—for always.”

The little orphan had found someone who would never abandon nor abuse him, someone who would stay with him—FOR ALWAYS … in his heart … [A Russian Christmas Story – “For Always.” Author: Will Fish]

Thank you, Jesus, that this is true for each and every one of us as well.

Jesus’ Home is Your Home

Finally, inevitably, Jesus came to make His home—heaven—… your home. Then, we will finally understand and experience what it means to be “Home for the Holidays” … for eternity.

A big attraction for those who live in Michigan is Mackinaw Island and its iconic Grand Hotel. If you have never been there, please consider joining the Lutheran Adult Gathering (LAG) there next October 14–16, 2022. Pat and I had our first experience at “The Grand” during such a Lutheran Adult Gathering more than a decade ago. What immediately struck us during our stay there was what we, and others, saw as a vivid and beautiful correlation to Jesus’ words in John 14. Often these words are read at funerals to remind those that live that they are not “home” yet; that the best is yet to come, and not to settle for earth when heaven awaits.

Jesus, who has just spoken to His disciples about his suffering and death, also asserts bold, comforting, encouraging truth, in an exquisite picture:

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in Me. My Father’s house (think The Grand) has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (John 14:1–3).

The Grand is this giant, white, magnificent mansion that has room after room, bedroom after bedroom, of elegantly adorned and furnished rooms! What a blast, what a joy, it will be to be in God’s home and finally see and be with Jesus! … And, also, to be with all those who have gone before us in the faith! Finally together! Finally, “AT HOME for the Holidays.” FOREVER! No more pain, no more separation, no more sin or sickness. No more death, this last enemy being destroyed for good (1 Corinthians 15:26).

Of course, what was most important in Jesus’ discourse in John 14 were His clear words of invitation, truth, and love:

“‘You know the way to the place where I am going.’ Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?’ Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me’” (John 14:4–6).

It’s Jesus, Jesus, only Jesus.

Thank you, Jesus, for your invitation and love, and for being “the way and the truth and the life,” which “life” will truly be fulfilled when we are home in Your home in heaven with You for all eternity.

Friends, you are forgiven, loved, empowered, purposed. Live each day—boldly and courageously through and for Jesus—for others as His representatives in this world. May He use our life, witness, and confession that they too may know (believe in) Him who is “the Way, the Truth, and the Life” … the only Person through whom humanity will ever be saved and eternally “Home for the Holidays.”

In Jesus, whose birth we celebrate, you are always … Welcome Home!

Merry Christmas!

In His Holy Name, Amen.

Rev. Dr. David P. E. Maier

President, Michigan District, LCMS

* All Scripture quotes taken from NIV unless otherwise noted.

Photo (c) jaap-willem/iStock

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About the Author

Rev. Dr. David P. E. Maier serves as president of the Michigan District, LCMS.

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John Zeile - December 2, 2021

Thanks for these wonderful words…as a fellow PK I resonate to waiting while Dad Z finished Christmas Eve services so we could open gifts. I only knew what must have been his exhaustion after preaching three services myself and heading home to a hyped and somewhat impatient brood. Our family trek was only from Flint to Saginaw, shorter than yours, but no less memorable.
Christmas Blessings! John C Zeile, StL ’71

ALICIA WINGET - December 2, 2021

Thank you for these lovely and inspiring words. I love the “For Always” story, and as almost everything just now is filtered through the tragedy at Oxford High School, I was particularly struck by the sorrow that we cannot teach Biblical truths in our public school system. How very sad.

I’m also saddened by most of the meaningless chatter I hear through the media. However, the Word is powerful and will break through and have an impact upon our frightened youth and parents.

My fondest childhood Christmas memories also center around the farm of my grandparents.