Home by another way

Published 7:30 pm Monday, January 4, 2021

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By Charles Qualls

Have you seen the 2020 Christmas Tree Ornament? We did in time to order one and have it hang on our tree this past month. We did in time to get one, and it hung on the tree at our house all during the Advent season. It has little symbols of some of the things that captured the essence of this weird year we’ll all remember for a long time. Face masks, laptop computers, a tape-measure that delineates six feet. All these and many more give a light-hearted remembrance of a strange year.

We began a new sermon series this week called “Never Waste A Good Crisis: Lessons We Could Learn From the Pandemic.” This series is not going to be a seven-week exercise in lament. I promise you. But wise counselors or therapists will advise you, “Never waste a good crisis.” There’s always something we should learn, even from adversity. So by necessity, we will have some occasional mention of the challenges we’ve faced.

This Epiphany story, where the Wise Men paid a visit to the baby Jesus, comes to us with perfect timing. It is found in Matthew 2: 1-12. Just about the time we think we have it all figured out, life throws us a curveball. Or in the case of this past year, a steady diet of what felt like nothing but curveballs. Because sometimes life may cause us to have to find our home and often by another way, just like the Wise Men.

In Walter Brueggeman’s Christian Century article called “Off By 9 Miles,” written back in December of 2001, he talks about this text. At that time, the smoldering fires of 9/11 hadn’t even completely extinguished. So, in a year that threw America off in similar ways to what this past one did — this brilliant scholar crafts us a story.

He draws on what it must have been like for King Herod to try desperately to figure out where this Baby Jesus was so that he might ultimately kill him. The king called upon some scholars. They had all heard Isaiah 60, so they looked at that. It was written in about 580 B.C. Jerusalem had been destroyed. Who would want to live there now, awash in great towers that had been toppled and an economy that had been destroyed? Yet there is a beckoning to come home, and to be guided by a promised Messiah who would do powerful things there.

Someone among them suggests the words of a different prophet. In Micah 5:2-4, we hear “But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from of old.” Brueggemann says, “This is the voice of a peasant hope for the future, a voice that is not impressed with high towers and great arenas, banks and urban achievements. It anticipates a different future, as yet unaccomplished, that will organize the peasant land in resistance to imperial threat. Micah anticipates a leader who will bring well-being to his people, not by great political ambition, but by attentiveness to the folks on the ground.”

They went seeking after a Messiah, just like we also may once in a while. Everyone would have thought he would have been in a resurgent Jerusalem. Instead, he was in a manger nine miles away to the south in Bethlehem. The wise men were warned about Herod’s true intentions. To dodge him would mean that they couldn’t travel back by the route they were used to. Not even close. Our story tells us that they instead went home by another way.

2020 sure has tested our resolve in some ways. We’re not out of the woods just yet. People have found themselves making decisions they never would have thought of making. Drawing conclusions they never thought they would have to. Adapting to what may turn out to be permanent losses or changes they wouldn’t necessarily have foreseen.

Life has tested us, and will keep on doing so. We don’t always know where “home” is anymore, it can seem. Some of us have no choice but to accept that things aren’t going to be like they used to be. But we have to stay anchored by our hope. Tethered to our dreams that there is a better time coming. Under God’s guidance we may just have to rediscover what home truly is, and go there by a different way now.


THE REV. DR. CHARLES QUALLS is the pastor of Franklin Baptist Church. Contact him at 757-562-5135.