“A Real Homecoming” By David N. Mosser

Isaiah 35:1-10
During 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.
The 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!
Conceivably 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.
For 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.
Home 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.
For 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.
Most 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.”
Later 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!

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