Homesick For A Place We’ve Never Been By Sean Gladding

by Christine Sine

Homesick for a place we’ve never been

I’ve never been a very patient person, and so I find the season of advent quite a challenge. It’s supposed to be the season of waiting, of longing, of anticipating the joy and the warmth and the light of Christmas. But I confess that the day after Thanksgiving, I’m ready to listen to Christmas music. There’s something so wonderfully evocative about “Have yourself a merry little Christmas” – whether it’s sung by Frank Sinatra or Chrissie Hynde – that I can’t wait until December 25th to hear it. Such songs conjure up images of sipping cocoa by a roaring fire, surrounded by my loved ones, while snow falls gently to the ground outside, perhaps with the sound of carolers carrying in the night air. But that image is a fiction: I’ve never experienced that perfect (for me) combination of the warmth of home at Christmas. And all I have to do is turn on the BBC World Service to be reminded that for millions of people around the world – and more than a few in my neighborhood – that image is not merely fiction: it is unimaginable.seangladding2

Because the truth is that pain and evil and disease and hunger and war and suffering do not take a break for the holy-days. For every family buying a turkey, there is another getting low on food stamps. For every family wrapping presents, there’s another wrapping dressings on open wounds. For every family overwhelmed with joy, there are dozens more overwhelmed with pain. British rocker Chris Rea sings a song in which a little girl is distraught after watching the news, and says to her papa, “Tell me there’s a heaven. Tell me that it’s true. Tell me there’s a reason why I’m seeing what I do.” At the end of the song, after watching those same images on the screen, Rea sings, “And I’m watching them, in tears of pain. And I’m watching them suffer. Don’t tell that little girl…tell me.” Tell me there’s a heaven. Tell me that it’s true. Tell me that one day there will be an end to the tears, to the sorrow, to the suffering.

At Christmas we celebrate the incarnation – this scandalous belief that God took on flesh and moved into the neighborhood with us 2,000 years ago. That the kingdom of heaven came with the person of Jesus, “joy of heaven, to earth come down,” as we sing in the beloved carol. And Jesus did do heavenly, remarkable things. He healed the sick. Fed the hungry. Even raised the dead. But not all of them. Just a few, truth be told. And 2,000 years on, people are still sick, still hungry, still die. We live in a world filled with pain, and suffering and injustice, a world awash with tears. So what exactly are we waiting for this advent season?

Yes, we wait for Christmas – the reminder that the kingdom of heaven has come with the birth of Jesus: but not in its fullness. Not yet. So we also wait for the second advent: the return of the King. For the day that Jesus revealed to John, who described it thus: “Then I saw a new heaven, and a new earth… And I heard a loud voice from the throne say, ‘Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people… He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death,or mourning, or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away… Behold! I am making all things new!’”

This is the home we’ve never known, but for which we yearn. This is the vision of a world none of us have ever seen, but which we dream of. A world of peace and justice and a place of unending joy: not just for a few days at Christmas, but for all eternity. A vision for which many have not been content to wait without working for those things this side of eternity. A dream Nelson Mandela shared with Martin Luther King Jr. A dream of which Irish rockers U2 sang in their song about Aung San Suu Kyi, “You’re packing a suitcase for a place none of us has been. A place that has to be believed to be seen.”

Perhaps you’ll join me in singing this advent song while we wait: working to come home together.

Come, Lord, and tarry not; bring the long looked for day;
O why these years of waiting here, these ages of decay?
Come, for Thy saints still wait; daily ascends their sigh;
The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come”; doest Thou not hear the cry?
O come and make all things new! Come and make all things new!
Build up this ruined earth, come and make all things new.
Come, for creation groans, impatient of Thy stay,
Worn out with these long years of ill, these ages of delay.
Come, for love waxes cold, its steps are faint and slow;
Faith now is lost in unbelief, hope’s lamp burns dim and low.
O come and make all things new! Come and make all things new!
Build up this ruined earth, come and make all things new.

~ Horatius Bonar



Sean Gladding is a member of Common Life in Lexington, Kentucky, where he and his family are learning to love God and their neighbors as themselves. He is the author of The Story of God, the Story of Us and TEN: Words of Life for an Addicted, Compulsive, Cynical, Divided and Worn-out Culture.

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