If "home" is living where you belong and "exile" is living where you do not belong, how do you know when you are home? I Googled that question and got answers likes these:
“You know you are home when you have a warm bed that you can’t get out of in the morning.”
“You know you are home by that feeling of relief when you pull into the driveway after a long trip.”
“You know you are home when you feel comfortable cooking breakfast in your pajamas.”
“You know you are home when you’re with your family.”
Is any of that true? Are things and feelings and people the sum total of home?
What if your comfort clothes wear out or stop fitting? What if anxiety won’t let you sleep in your warm bed? What if you literally can’t get out of bed because you’re unhealthy? What if you don’t get along with or move away from your family? What if your family dies? Do you know you are home when you’re feeling good and collecting stuff? How do you know you are home and not in exile?
A little history lesson ... By the eighth century BC, God’s people had developed a strong sense that they definitely belonged where they were, feeling good and surrounded by their favorite things. And they determined to keep it that way by making idols for themselves — that is, figures of silver, gold, wood even, fashioned into some human likeness that they then heart-trusted to exercise divine power on their behalf. So in order to manufacture their own sense of belonging, to feel good and collect stuff, flesh-and-blood people handcrafted wood and metal statues believing they had divine power and then appeasing those idols with sexual pleasure worship and human-child sacrifice.
Isn’t that simply incredible? That those primitive people would be so foolish as to place their lives in the hands of a lifeless god!
So that his people would not be left as lifeless as their idols, God sent his prophet Isaiah to preach to them his word of conviction — they were unfaithful to God. And because they had given their hearts to idols, God would exile them to the foreign, pagan land of Babylon. Because they had built their lives on a false notion of home, God would destroy their homes. Because their hearts were set on the flawed sense of belonging to good feelings and cool stuff, God was going to take away their stuff and retool their sense of belonging. God was going to show his people they were no more home in Jerusalem than in Babylon and they were no more in exile in Babylon than in Jerusalem. In fact, their ultimate exile would never end until God restored them to their ultimate home.
As we might imagine, this entire experience would prove extremely unsettling. For there is nothing more unsettling nor more painful than God’s wrath and displeasure.
Now a vengeful God wouldn’t care about the pain and unsettled hearts of his people. But a loving God would comfort his people. A loving God would console his people that, in the end, unlike their lifeless idols, they would live. They would live where they belong. They would know they are home. So God sent his prophet Isaiah to preach his word of consolation. Isaiah 40:1-2. “Comfort, O comfort My people,” says your God. “Speak kindly to Jerusalem; And call out to her, that her warfare has ended, That her iniquity has been removed, That she has received of the Lord’s hand Double for all her sins.”
The point of the whole of chapter 40 is that though his people were unfaithful to him, God would remain faithful to them. And, in order to restore them from exile, in order to bring them to their true home, their eternal home, God would himself make his home among them.
And so he did.
Another history lesson ... God took on flesh and blood. The living God without beginning and without end took on a human beginning. God made himself human. The one, only true living creator of heaven and earth became a homeless man, Jesus Christ.
Jesus Christ came in order to appease God’s wrath and displeasure over our sin. So he did everything God wanted and he did it perfectly. Nailed to wood, God had a human end when Jesus Christ became the Son of God human sacrifice and died to pay for our sin. So that Jesus’ worship was self-denial and his sacrifice was his own body and blood.
Isn’t that simply incredible?! That God would be so loving as to become for us the lifeless God!
And so that we would not be left lifeless as our idols, on the third day God raised Jesus from the dead.
Let’s confess it. Repent of it. Bowing down to wood and metal is not exclusive to Isaiah’s day. We endow houses of wood with the power to give us pleasure and rob us of pleasure. Automobiles and phones and golf clubs and computers, all of metal, all get some measure of our worship and sacrifice. And we cry out to our idols to make us feel at home. And they can’t. Reminder that no matter where you and I reside, no matter the feelings we have or the stuff we collect, it is not where you and I belong. Our sin has relegated us to life on earth that is way more exile than home.
So God’s word of Isaiah is conviction and consolation for you and me too — conviction that you and I are sinners and consolation that Jesus Christ is God who was exiled on the cross in order to forgive our sin and take us to the eternal home where we belong.
So the good news is Jesus Christ is our home!
Home is not our faithfulness to Jesus but his faithfulness to us. And he doesn’t withhold it until we ask. He gives it. And we can know we are where we belong when we hear his voice speak the absolution of our sins, when we eat and drink his body-and-blood meal for our faith, when we wear the righteous robe of his baptism, when we rest in the truth of his holy word, and on the last day when he welcomes us home, “Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”
Kevin Wendt is pastor of Grace Lutheran Church in Destin.