By Rob Furlong
Most of us love homecoming stories. A son believed to have died in the war miraculously turns up at a family gathering and is then engulfed by his relatives. Or, a good friend who has been rejected because of the stupidity of another arrives in the nick of time to lend their undeserving friend a helping hand.
Homecomings, no matter how corny or formulaic, usually bring a tear to my eye – I'm a sucker for them. And our world loves them too and we find traces of the joy of coming home everywhere in our culture.
We sing about it. Graeme Connors wrote of a man who had left his small country town for the big world of the city only to return home years later, destitute and beaten down by the harsh reality of life, to discover that the girl at the local gas station still remembered who he was:
And considering the years he'd been gone, it was amazing
She recognised him with the beard and the dirty clothes
She dropped her tray of empty coffee cups and stood there
He couldn't recall her name, but she loved him just the same
We make movies about it. Who can forget that marvellous scene at the conclusion of It's a Wonderful Life where Jimmy Stewart races through the streets of the small town he has spent his entire life in, trying to get away from it but never succeeding and after flirting with suicide realizes that home is precisely where he wants to be. We watch him toss snow in the air joyfully, yell greetings to people he doesn't know and then charge into his home to be met by his wife, children and a houseful of friends who are all there to celebrate him and help him out. It is a glorious moment and we revel in it because deep down inside us there is something that tells us that this is how it should be – no matter what we have done or what mistakes we have made, there is a place waiting for us where we will be welcomed with open arms and love because we have come to our senses.
Christmas is a time when we have the opportunity to celebrate the richness and wonder of all these things and more. It is a time for a couple to look back on the year that has gone, to grieve the losses and celebrate the wins, to give thanks for the many blessings and to draw comfort and security from the fact that their love for each other has deepened and grown.
It is also a time when we can renew hope. For many, Christmas is a time of sadness and loneliness, a time when they are acutely reminded that while others celebrate, they can only grieve. This is why Jesus came: "to release the captives and to set free those who are downtrodden".
In fact, the Christmas story is all about coming home. Joseph and Mary return to the town of his ancestry for the purpose of a census and are blessed with the birth of their firstborn, Jesus, who is the Saviour and King of the world. And the birth is first celebrated by shepherds, outcasts in a society that regarded them as less than trustworthy. Yet God considered them the ideal people to reveal the birth of His Son to because they were representative of those He came to rescue – people who were looking for a welcoming home.
You see, God loves homecomings as well. Jesus illustrates this in the parable of the Prodigal Son, found in Luke chapter 15 of the Bible. It reminds us, as does Christmas, that when we come to our senses, like the younger son in the story, our Heavenly Father is waiting to welcome us home with His open arms of love and kindness. Whatever your situation this Christmas, be it good or bad, know that God loves you deeply and He is longing for you to hear Him say to you: "Welcome home!"•