the time of the prophecy of Isaiah, as most Christians know, Babylon deported
Israel to a far away land. Of course, scholars tell us that at most those whom
the Babylonians deported numbered no more than 10% of the population. Nonetheless,
the Babylonians plainly knew what they were doing. The persons that they deported
from Israel were those who were most instrumental in administrating Hebrew society
– the priests, the wealthy, and the most educated of Israel’s leadership.
This “strategic deportation” effectively crippled customary Israelite
life during the years of deportation.
days of the exile were difficult for Israel. The deportation into exile changed
everything for those exiled, as well as those who remained behind in the sacred
land of Canaan. We can get a sense of the misery of those in exile when we
recall the plaintive cry of those cut off from the temple and other familiar fixtures
of worship in their homeland: “By the rivers of Babylon – there we sat
down and there we wept when we remembered Zion” (Psalm 137:1). This prayer
reveals the deepest and most profound experience of homesickness – feeling
cut off from even God!
one of the reasons that the lectionary constructors selected our lesson today
from Isaiah is that it speaks to the hope of all people for “Homecoming.”
Many people in our modern society feel detached from life. Work has become increasingly
ruthless with demands on companies and small businesses to increase profits. This
circumstance forces workers into longer and more stressful labor. In families,
economic pressures increase stress on relationships. Children are unsupervised
with the advent of both parents, if they are still together, working harder and
longer hours. Urban traffic virtually guarantees fretful or short-tempered parents
when they finally do arrive home to the family. Our sense of home seems distant
from earlier American scenes depicted by the artist Norman Rockwell or the nostalgic
Currier and Ives commercials of days gone by.
these reasons and many more, most of us yearn for simpler times. When we remember
our own childhood, it seems that times were better and more secure. Consequently,
we relish the evocative days that Christmas represents. Christmas prods us to
recall our best memories and what we all hope for when we consider home. For modern
people, Christmas is not merely a religious holy-day, which it certainly is, but
it also signifies the in-gathering of family and homecoming.
is a notion valued in the Bible. Possibly for the Hebrew people the idea of home
was especially precious. From the beginning, God had led them toward it. We all
remember how God’s relationship with the covenant people began: “Now the
Lord said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house
to the land that I will show you’ ” (Genesis 12:1). Later, after Jacob had
served many years under the discipline of his father in law Laban, Genesis 30:25
tells us, “When Rachel had borne Joseph, Jacob said to Laban, ‘Send me away,
that I may go to my own home and country.’ ” Even the wisdom literature reminds
us that “Like a bird that strays from its nest/is one who strays from home”
(Proverbs 27:8). Home and the idea of homecoming is in our spiritual DNA.
people like the exiles and for people like us modern and sophisticated folks,
homecoming nearly always conjures images of hope. It is likely that some in Israel,
however, said that Isaiah’s image of a homeward journey was naively optimistic.
Isaiah wrote that Israel would travel homeward on “A highway . . . and it
shall be called the Holy Way” (35:8). Faith in God gives us a positive option
by which to react to the things that life throws our way. Genuine homecoming is
to be re-united with the Lord. Our faith keeps this option open to us. The other
option is despair which lead to death. Faith places this decision within our grasp
and Christmas helps us focus on what authentic homecoming is all about.
of us know that there are basically two responses to bleak and oppressive circumstances
life presents: despair or hope. It all depends on one’s faith perspective. For
an example of perspective a shoe company sent a salesperson was sent to a remote
country. When he arrived, he was dismayed because everyone went barefooted. So
he wired the company, “No prospect for sales. People don’t wear shoes here.”
another salesman went to the same area. He too immediately sent word to the home
office. But his telegram read, “Great potential! People don’t wear shoes
here!” A person’s perspective depends on a person’s faith. For the Hebrew
people and Christians Isaiah reminds each of us about that largely untapped resource
we call faith. By faith we can get home!
brief provided by: David N. Mosser, Pastor, First United
Methodist Church, Arlington, TX