a sermon based on Isaiah 40:1-11 & Mark 1:1-8
by Rev. Rick Thompson
“Oh, there’s no place like home for the holidays.”
“I’ll be home for Christmas.” “Over the river and through the woods, to
grandmother’s house we go.”
Going home. For many Americans, that’s one of the
chief meanings of the holiday season: it’s time to go home. We sing
holiday songs about it. We fill the airlines months in advance, and
juggle family calendars: we want to go home, and we want our loved ones
to be there when we do. Even if we live nearby our loved ones, we know
the importance of going home. Home is where we belong; it’s where we
find our sense of place and purpose. One author wrote, “Home is where,
when you go there, they have to take you in.”
Author Thomas Wolfe, though, had another idea about
going home. “You can’t go home again,” was Wolfe’s observation. Home is
never quite what we expect it to be, never quite as wonderful as we
Have you ever gone home to the house you grew up
in—you know, that house with the huge yard, and the large
rooms, and the endless happiness—only to be disappointed? The rooms
weren’t nearly as spacious as you remembered, and the yard was not much
bigger than a postage stamp, and the pleasant memories were few and far
The hilarious comedy movie, Home for the Holidays,
takes a humorous look at the disappointment and tension that
sometimes result when we go home. Three adult children are all beckoned
home for the holiday. They don’t get along with their parents, and the
don’t get along very well with each other, either! There is one tense
scene after another, and the holiday is quickly spoiled. And the funny
scenes are only funny in an ironic sort of way: we only laugh because
it’s easier than crying when we realize how silly we act when we hurt
Thomas Wolfe was right: Going home is not always
I can be joyful and deeply moving, but sometimes
going home turns out to offer nothing but pain and misery.
Which would it be for the ancient Jews?
They were about to go home.
That’s the message the prophet in our first reading
is tapped on the shoulder to proclaim. The lengthy exile in Babylon
would soon be over! Their longing, their aching to return home and
rebuild their lives was about to be fulfilled. God was about to lead the
people home! Those who wished would soon be crossing the desert to
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD, make
straight in the desert
a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted
up, and every mountain
and hill made low; the uneven ground shall become
level, and the rough places
a plain.” (Is. 40: 3-4)
Straight across the barren, threatening desert, God
was going to lead the people home! Leveling the hills, smoothing the
valleys, more powerful than giant road-building equipment—God was going
to lead the people home! The exiles of Jerusalem were going home!
And not long after Isaiah spoke these words, God
kept the promise. God set the people free, and they went home.
Soon, however, they discovered the truth of what
Thomas Wolfe would write: “You can’t go home again.”
When they got there, it was far from what they
expected. The city that seemed so great and mighty—it was small and it
lay in ruins. The temple, where they had worshipped God faithfully and
properly, had been burned to the ground. Their existence was dismal,
hand-to-mouth, discouraging. What they hoped would be the greatest
experience of their lives turned out to be a huge disappointment.
They had gone home, but it didn’t feel like
Centuries later, the people of God were still
waiting: still waiting for freedom, still waiting for life to make
sense, still waiting to be in a place where they belonged. Oh, yes, they
were still in the Promised Land; but the land wasn’t theirs. They had
little freedom, life was dreary, and they thought God had failed to
deliver what God had promised. The people were filled with longing and
expectation, and they desperately wanted to feel at home again.
That’s when John the Baptist burst unto the scene.
John appeared in the wilderness, and it was such a monumental event
that, as Mark tells us, “people from the whole Judean countryside
and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him.” They had
hope in their hearts, and they though John was sent by God to show them
the way home to a fuller life, home to a deeper relationship with God,
home to greater joy.
And this was John’s message:
“Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths
straight…The one who is more
powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy
to stoop down and untie
the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with
water, but he will baptize
you with the Holy Spirit. (Mark 1:3, 7-8)
Apparently, being at home had something to do with
the One who was coming. Being at home had to do with Jesus. And those
who wanted to go home were urged to change their ways. They were to
repent, be baptized, and receive the forgiveness of God in preparation
for the coming of God’s kingdom. Then they would be home!
Going home requires leaving something behind.
Thos who go home for Christmas leave behind the
comfort of their own home and re-enter the world of the past.
Those who went home to Jerusalem, in response to
Isaiah’s urging, left behind the security of life in Babylon to take a
chance on the return to Jerusalem.
And those of us who want to go home to God must
leave behind our sin!
John’s invitation to go home to God requires a
leaving behind. It requires repentance. It means we must allow God to
take the lead, and to remove the mountains from our lives that get in
God’s way, to smooth out the valleys where we are likely to get bogged
down in our relationship with God.
God is planning to lead us home—home, to live under
God’s rule, so that we will never have to feel displaced again.
We have a place with God—THAT is where we are
truly at home!
Are you at home with God? If not, why not? What
has to change? What mountains need to be leveled in your life?
What gets in the way of your relationship with God? And what
needs to be smoothed out, so that you can keep moving forward, keep
following God’s lead? What sin needs to be repented, for what do you
need forgiveness? What stubbornness and selfishness gets in God’s way
and keeps God from working in our lives?
Don & Marie were on the fast track to social
prominence in their community. Don had an extremely well-paying and
important job. And the couple had a daughter, Erica, whom they sent,
every Sunday, to church and Sunday School.
One of the things they did in climbing the social
ladder was to hold lavish—and often wild—parties on Saturday nights.
Their parties were the most sought-after invitation in town. Don and
Marie were on their way to prominence!
And yet, every Sunday, there was their daughter—in
One Sunday, the little girl was in church as
usual—but this time she had two adult friends with here. Later, the
pastor realized the adults were Erica’s parents!
“I’m curious,” the pastor said after worship. “What
brings you here today?”
“Do you know about our parties, Pastor?” Don asked.
“Yes,” the replied.
“Well, we had one again last night. It got loud, and
rough, and there was lots of drinking. The noise woke up Erica, and she
came downstairs, to about the third step. She saw the guests eating and
drinking. ‘Oh, can I say the blessing?’ she asked. ‘God is great, God is
good, let us thank God for our food. Amen. Good night, everybody’!”
Erica went back upstairs to her bedroom.
People began to say, “It’s getting late; we really
must get going,” and “thanks for a great evening,” and “we had a
Within two minutes, little Erica’s mention of God had
chased all the guests out the door.
Marie and Don began picking up crumpled napkins,
spilled peanuts, and half-eaten sandwiches. They emptied overflowing
ashtrays and took trays full of empty and half-empty glasses to the
kitchen. They looked at each other, and he said what they both were
thinking: “Where do we think we’re going?”
The next day, they were in church with Erica.
The had decided that it was well past time for them
to be going home—home to God!
That’s the invitation we receive from the prophets
Isaiah and John the Baptist today: “Go home to God!” We’re invited to
leave our sin behind, and follow God as a path is made through the
desert, and to get on the route that leads us home.
When we go home to God, then we’ll have the kind of
Christmas we long for.
When we go home to God, we’ll know where we truly
have a home.
Are you thinking about going home for
If you are then, remember this: we won’t be at home
anywhere, until we’re at home with God. Amen.