A Home for All; Luke 3:1-18; Zephaniah 3:14-20
Plymouth First United Methodist Church; December 12, 2021
Pastor Toni Carmer
Advent is a season of preparation. At home, people are cleaning, getting out their Christmas decorations and putting up their trees, figuring out what holiday foods to fix, figuring out how to “do” Christmas at this point in the pandemic where things look good for a few days, and then they don’t.
Even with boxes all around us, Scott and I set a new pre-decorated tree out on the front porch that we bought for the season. In the garage where there’s a major pile of stuff, I climbed over some things and found a chair to stand on to reach the wreathe we put on our front door, then passed it over to Scott, who could just reach my hand to keep me steady on top of the pile between where I was and where I needed to be. No injuries sustained. It felt good to put out that little bit of Christmas cheer.
Maybe you’re listening to Christmas carols and simply enjoying the season…but then we gather for worship and John the Baptist enters into the festivities. He’s not one you’d add to your invitation list for your holiday celebrations. He’s the male version of Debbie-Downer. (John Joy-Buster?) You knew he would be joining us on one of these Sundays in Advent—he always does…always makes his entrance just as we’re beginning to enjoy the festivities. Plus, we had a bit of a preview last week when we talked about Zechariah’s introduction to the whole idea of having a son, his puzzled reaction, and the angel Gabriel’s response. After 9 months of silent pondering, Zechariah was thrilled with he and Elizabeth’s little bundle of joy and they raise him in the knowledge that he will be a man of God whose destiny is to prepare the way of the Lord.
John fulfills the role to which God has called him, and we can see in this whole season of preparation and Christ’s coming into the world this mysterious interplay between the divine and human, the ordinary and extraordinary, and regular everyday activities and the amazing and miraculous ones.
John is just an ordinary guy; not a god, and not particularly gifted when it comes to the art of communication. He would never be accused of being a smooth talker, a spiffy dresser or a connoisseur of good food. (We’re told he wore a camel-hair vest and ate locusts and wild honey.) And yet, in the first sentence of Luke 3, no fewer than seven of Israel’s movers and shakers of the day are named: but the Word of God doesn’t come to any of them. (It’s almost kind of fun to realize that a few of the people listed wouldn’t be pleased to know their names would be known and included in history through their connection in what they believed to be a marginal religious sect; and the name of Pontius Pilate’s would be repeated regularly in a creed as people come together to worship the Triune God, of which Jesus is very much included!) With all these choices, bigger names and bigger places with greater positions, the Word of God comes to John son of Zechariah and Elizabeth in the wilderness, and he sets out to do what God has called him to do even before his birth: to make people ready. To call people to repentance. To let people know they couldn’t rely on the deeds and the faithfulness of their ancestors for their salvation, but it would be up to them to bear good fruit—fruits worthy of repentance.
As people listened to John they would ask: “So, what does that mean? What should we do?” He answered very clearly, giving specific examples that were practical and pointed. He told them to share. To not take more than they needed. To be honest. to treat one another with kindness.
Prepare the way of the Lord, John said. Make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, every mountain and hill shall be made low, the crooked places shall be made straight, and the rough places made smooth. All flesh shall see the salvation of God. As they do this/as we do this, we participate in making it possible that all flesh can find a home in Christ. All flesh—because of this amazing interplay between divine and human: Because we’ve listened. We’ve responded. We’ve prepared. We’ve invited. We’ve cared. We’ve been faithful. Because of these things—through our actions, all flesh will find a home in Christ.
“Close to Home” is our Advent series, and “A Home for All” is the name of this week’s message. When we think of home, the first thing we might think of is the place where we live. When I read this week’s devotional and read Sunday’s poem entitled “Advocating for Home” based on this scripture, I was given a completely different interpretation of home, that unfortunately for many I’m afraid makes perfect sense. The poem is written by Reverend Sarah (Are) Speed “with love for all who identify as transgender and /or non-binary”, which means the individual identifies as neither male nor female. I’d like to read the poem for you.
Advocating for Home
I know you don’t feel at home in your body.
Your clothes don’t feel right.
Your bones don’t feel right.
Your name, just a word that people have labeled you with.
I see the way you try on pronouns like I try on clothes,
looking for something—anything—that feels right.
And what I would give to build you a shelter—
a safe space where you could be,
a home where you were safe and free.
What I would give to carve out some room
for you to process and grieve
and dance and sing your way
into your true self.
But I know
it’s not that easy.
My hands cannot build you safety.
My words cannot give you time.
My heart cannot be home enough.
So until the day when you are truly at home,
I will keep marching for you.
I will keep advocating for the home you deserve—
the home in your own skin.
I will keep praying.
I will give you my second coat,
and the shirt off my back, and the food from my table.
I won’t give up on preparing the way.
A voice is calling out in the wilderness.
Do you hear it?
There’s more for us here than has been before.
- (Rev. Sarah (Are) Speed)
Realizing there is a difference between transgender, non-binary and gay or lesbian, this poem reminds me how one might not feel at home because of their sexuality: how friends and loved ones have responded which has led to an individual no longer feel at home with the people they once thought of as home.
Or—perhaps one doesn’t feel at home in their own skin any longer because of the need for surgery that has altered their body—whether that change can be viewed by others, or is known only by the one who has experienced it…
Perhaps one doesn’t feel at home because of a mistake made at some point along the way, decisions that have been made…when an individual is convinced they’ll never be fully accepted again, that they have been defined by their biggest mistake.
Maybe one doesn’t feel at home because family has made it clear that they are one more mouth to feed, or one more stress in a household already overflowing with stress.
Maybe one doesn’t feel at home because of the death, divorce or separation from their partner; friendships have changed, they’re no longer a couple but a single person and people who were once “their people” seem uncomfortable, and so they’re uncomfortable, too.
Or one has left home looking for work north of the border or anywhere in the world, to go to a place where one’s family isn’t threatened by violence, or where there’s food, or clean water, or hope, or some possibility other than the no possibility of where they were, but it is evident that you are not wanted and you aren’t sure what to do or where to go…and really have no other choices.
Maybe the home where one lived with their spouse or raised their family isn’t where they can live now. They need a smaller place or more assistance…and yet long for home…
Different people, for different reasons don’t feel a sense of home. They long for home.
We listen to John’s call to prepare and the words at first sound critical. Harsh. They don’t seem to “fit” on a Sunday when we’re lighting the pink “joy” candle in our Advent wreath. (And I know, the preface of calling one’s congregation a “brood of vipers” can’t help but put a group on the defensive.) But when we live out John’s words, seeking to level out the rough places by sharing what we have, by being honest with one another and offering kindness, these actions give birth to joy, to hope, anticipation and expectation. They provide the kind of home that takes us beyond the walls of any building one might inhabit.
One of my favorite memories in serving was when our congregation collected food items for Church Community Services in Elkhart. (Some of you are familiar with Soup for Success, which was one of the ministries of Church Community Services. They provide—not only a food pantry—but also the possibility of gaining work and business skills that can translate into jobs and income in the Soup for Success program.)
We parked a large rental truck in front of the church and everyone brought food—canned products and non-perishables. The response was amazing: not only in the food contributions, but the number of people who showed up to help load it up and take it downtown.
It all started on a clear and beautiful day, but by the time we unloaded at Church Community Services, it was raining cats and dogs. We were soaked to the bone, and grinning ear-to-ear at the abundance of food and people who had come together to make a difference.
As I think of the rain on that day, I think of John’s baptisms of repentance, and our own baptisms that bring us a part of the family of Jesus. Christ’s love soaked us on the day of our baptisms, God’s love soaked us on that day when the rain came down, and God’s love has been known to leak out of our eyes as tears, when we’re hurting or when we’re joyful, or when we’re just standing outside on a windy day. The water reminds us that we belong to God, we have a home with God, and we can find our home in a faith community. Baptismal water, rain water, tears…reminders that we’re God’s. That we’re loved. And we have a home in Christ.
Yesterday we completely emptied the basement of the parsonage of our stuff and I was sweeping. I thought about what a good space that has been for Scott and I—the place where we could relax, watch TV, and just hang out after a long day. That’s where our family would gather when they’d come visit. In a lot of ways, that was the center of our home. And yet, I realize that in all the places we’ve lived, that “home” wasn’t so much the place where I’ve hung my hat, but I’ve found home in my faith, in my faith community, and in my family—in the people I’ve loved, and who have loved me.
As you and I prepare and wait for the coming of Jesus, may we do our part in creating a home—in our hearts and minds, in our community and in our church—where those who don’t have a home, or a place to call home, can find one with us.