During the last few weeks,
in this season leading up to Christmas,
our congregation has been talking about
what it means to come home.
And so I’ve been thinking a lot about
the ways that my own understanding of “home”
has changed throughout my life.
When my wife and I began our journey together
home was a very fluid concept.
She had been away at two different schools
over the course of seven years.
Then she moved back in to her parents’ house, in our hometown,
just for a summer – and that’s where we connected
and fell in love… but in the fall,
she started another Masters program
that kept her three hours away half of every week.
At that time in my life,
I was back to living with my parents
in the house my great-grandfather built.
So our hometown has a pretty big place in our hearts
and in our minds when we think of home.
In March of 2006,
while still working on school and planning our wedding,
Bri got a phone call from the Bishop
asking her to prayerfully consider
beginning her first appointment
at the Oscoda United Methodist
and Ojibwa Indian Mission churches in Oscoda.
We’d never even heard of Oscoda, but when the bishop calls,
it’s hard to say “no”…
and a few days later we got a glimpse of the strange new place
where we would soon be living.
Two short months later Bri and I got married.
We had a short honeymoon in a little bed and breakfast
before coming back home –
only at that point, we had no home at all.
We didn’t even have an apartment.
Bri and I had both been living with our parents
and then in a bed and breakfast,
and our new house in our new town
was hundreds of miles away
and still almost two weeks away
from being ready for us to move in.
We spent a few days housesitting for my new in-laws,
who were nice enough to make other plans
and make themselves scarce…
and then we crashed with my wife’s grandparents
for a few more nights while we waited for our moving truck to arrive.
In the span of about thirteen days,
I went from living with my parents,
to living with her parents,
to living with her grandparents,
and then finally settling into a strange church parsonage,
in a strange town,
in a strange part of the state in which we had never lived.
With a church full of wonderful strangers.
After the first few days in that parsonage,
I figured I was just never going to get to feel
like I was at home ever again. It was a sad feeling.
I had lived up north – back “home” – for my entire life;
I had memories in every restaurant,
I knew every intersection,
and I couldn’t enter a local business
without running into someone I knew.
And now, all that had changed.
All I wanted to do was talk to my friends back home in the U.P.
I was counting the days until we could go back “home”.
And this lasted for a long time.
A little over three years to be exact.
I mean, the boxes got unpacked – most of them, at least;
and I figured out my way around town….
but still I walked around in a state of melancholy most of the time.
I could put on a happy face for for church events
but I didn’t ever feel really happy
until I knew we were leaving for a trip back “home”.
Eventually, finally, that all changed.
Eventually, finally, that strange little parsonage,
and that strange little town, became home for me…
and it happened the day my daughter was born.
We packed her into the car to leave the hospital –
and it really felt like we were going home.
It was no longer someone else’s house
in someone else’s town. It was our house.
In our town. It was our home.
Babies do that, don’t they?
They have the uncanny ability to muck everything up.
To destroy our ruts. To upend our tidy little lives.
They change everything. Except their diapers of course. They turn the world upside down.
And somehow, in the process, they help us find our way home.
It was the same when we moved here.
Strange town and neighborhood,
wonderful strangers at our churches.
A nice parsonage, still strange, but nice…
but at that point, now Oscoda felt like home to me –
the place we’d lived for eight years,
where we’d learned to be husband and wife,
where we’d become parents and built a life together.
I wondered how long it would take for this new house,
and new church, and new town to feel like home.
Thankfully it didn’t take three years.
It just took until the fall of that year,
when our youngest daughter was born.
When we left the hospital it was not to bring her to the house…
but to bring her home.
Babies change everything.
They change our perspectives and our priorities.
They change our outlook. They change us.
The statistics tell us
that there are about 4.3 babies born ever second on our planet. That’s 258 babies a minute.
Which equates to about 2.6 million per week.
135.2 million born per year.
During our worship tonight, just while we’re worshiping here,
15,480 babies will take their first breath
and cry out for the first time.
And everyone of them a bundle of change to the world around them.
Babies are born to rich families and poor families.
Babies are born in hospitals and taxi cabs,
in houses and in huts.
Babies are born in cities and rain forests.
Babies are born in perfect health
and born with defects and disabilities and diseases.
Babies are born into families that have planned and prepared,
and babies are born to people
who didn’t even know they were pregnant.
They are born in snow storms and hurricanes and heat waves.
And those babies change the landscape of our lives
more than any hurricane or natural disaster.
They transform everything around them.
A house becomes a home.
Men and women become, all of the sudden, moms and dads;
in an instant a baby changes your identity.
Every once in a while I look at our oldest, Michaela, and say,
“Thank you so much sweetie,”
and she usually responds with, “For what?”
and I say, “For making me a daddy.
Before you were born I was just a some guy.
But when you were born, I became a daddy,
and I love being a daddy.”
When she was born, she redefined who I am.
Who my wife and I are, together.
We had another life we were responsible for.
I remember leaving the hospital with Michaela and thinking…
“Really? They are just going to let us walk out of here with a baby? We have no clue what we are doing!”
But that changed, too.
Cause now we know what we are doing. (Please stop laughing.) We are loving and raising our kids
and creating oodles of billable hours for their future therapists.
Babies change everything.
Tonight we are here to celebrate the biggest baby of them all…
wait… is that how I want to say that?
Ok so maybe not big it terms of size,
but in terms of change, of transformation,
of meaning to the world, for sure Jesus is the biggest baby by far.
We know the story. We read it every year.
The change and transformation
that the 8 pound 6 ounce newborn infant Jesus represented
made angels show up and sing,
it brought lowly shepherds in from the cold,
and caused enlightened travelers from the east
to set out on a pilgrimage.
This baby threatened kings and kingdoms,
and turned everything – not just his family’s lives,
but the whole world, upside down.
This was a baby so powerful
that the king felt threatened, by his very birth,
and wanted to find him and kill him.
And this was a baby so vulnerable
that his parents became refugees,
escaping into Egypt until the king had died –
and even then, only returning to a small town,
trying to blend in, as nobodies
making their home in the middle of nowhere,
so that this vulnerable and powerful child
might survive long enough to transform the world.
Even now, two thousand years later, Jesus still changes things.
He still threatens the powers of the world;
his gospel, his message, is still incredibly fragile
and yet so very powerful that it changes everything.
So there are two questions I want you to consider tonight
and tomorrow and in the days ahead.
What has Jesus moved you to change since last Christmas?
And what is Jesus moving you to change
before the next time we gather to celebrate God being with us?
I know we don’t want to hear either of those questions,
let alone answer them, but they are important questions.
The first is important because it is a litmus test of where we are.
And the second because it causes us to think
about where you need to be.
Jesus always has been and always will be
the agent of change in the world.
If you can’t think of a place
where Jesus has touched or changed your life recently
start looking for where Jesus is looking to transform you now.
the challenge since last Christmas was to health and wholeness.
It was about losing weight,
both the physical pounds and some emotional baggage.
It was about making more room in my life
for the ordinary things,
and recognizing that those are the things that really matter most.
In the coming weeks and months
I think Jesus wants me to begin to understand my worth.
To not sit on my thoughts
but express them in meaningful ways
and in a multitude of places.
And I’m also feeling called to spend more time
that is just me and God.
Not because I am writing a sermon or leading a bible study.
But study and prayer that is just because
I want to know God and love God even more.
And to do that, I’m making a plan.
I’m asking colleagues and friends to hold me accountable.
I’m scheduling in appointments with God,
just like all the other important meetings in my life,
and I’m finding outlets to share my thoughts and insights
and questions as I go.
That’s me. That’s how I answer the questions,
looking back and looking ahead. How about you?
Jesus is still looking to transform us, right now, right here.
You can accept the gift of God with us,
and allow that gift to transform you.
Examine your heart, pray, and listen
for where Jesus is looking to do some transforming
in this next season of our lives,
so that when we gather together again
to read the story and sing the songs
of an infant who came to change the world,
we will be able to point to the change Jesus has made in us.
Friends, Christmas is not about presents or Christmas wishes.
It’s not about Santa Claus or snowmen or Grinches.
Its not about Scrooges
or a Red Ryder Carbine Action 200-shot Range Model air rifle.
It is the story of God come to earth, come to us,
not to judge us and not to entertain us, but to transform us,
to get us back on track, to show us the righteous path.
And that path, the one that follows Christ,
begins here. In humility and in joy.
The path is not easy.
There are lots of obstacles looking to get us off track
and there will be sacrifices that need to be made along the way.
But I can tell you, I am a better version of myself today,
then I was on Christmas Eve last year
and I don’t regret any of the change that Christ has made in me. And I look forward to standing here next year
and being able to say the same thing.
So may you take the time to see where Christ has been changing you
and may you look forward to the transformation that is yet to come.
and may you have a very Merry Christmas
and a Happy New Year too. Amen? Amen.