THERE’S NO PLACE LIKE HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS
An Advent sermon based on Zephaniah 3: 14-20
First Baptist Church of Lynchburg
December 12, 2021
By Paul Dakin
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord our
Strength and our Redeemer. Amen.
At that time, I will bring you home, at the time when I gather you; for I will make you renowned and
praised among all the peoples of the earth, when I restore your fortunes before your eyes, says the Lord.
It has been said that there are three phrases that every person everywhere longs to hear. It
really does not matter who you are. It does not matter what color your skin is or what your ethnicity
may be. It does not matter if you’ve got money in the bank…or if you don’t have two nickels in your
pocket to rub together. It does not matter how old you are…or where you live…or where you come
from…It doesn’t matter what language that you speak. I am sure that people were just as desirous to
hear these three phrases five hundred years ago as they are today. And I imagine that people will still
long to hear them five hundred years from now. Three simple phrases that capture much of what it
means to be human. Those phrases are:
“I love you.”
“Dinner’s ready.” and
In the fall of 1943, the United States—along with most of the rest of the world—had been
embroiled in the Second World War for almost two long years. Hundreds of thousands of American
service personnel were scattered all over the globe, fighting in Europe, North Africa and the Pacific. On
st of the year, Bing Crosby went into the recording studio to record a new Christmas song. The
words of this song were in the form of a letter from an American soldier to his folks back home. In the
letter, he is relating how he intends to be home for Christmas and to join in the festivities of the season.
The song was an immediate hit with Americans—both those serving in the military and civilians
alike. It became Bing Crosby’s fifth gold record, signifying 500,000 copies sold. It is said that it became
the most requested song at USO shows for the remainder of the war. Today it is considered to be a
holiday classic. The song has been recorded probably hundreds—maybe thousands—of times by many
singers. Notable versions of the song include recordings by Elvis, Johnny Mathis, Michael Bublé, Josh
Groban, Kelly Clarkson—and somewhat more perversely by Bob Dylan.
You know the song—
I’ll be home for Christmas, you can plan on me.
From his album 2009 album Christmas in the Heart. As most of you know, I am a huge fan of Bob’s. But it must be
said that, when he sings “I’ll be home for Christmas/You can plan on me” in that raspy, hoarse voice of his, those
words come out sounding more like a warning or a threat than anything else. At least the proceeds from the album
go to benefit the Feeding America charity…
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Please have snow, and mistletoe, and presents on the tree.
Christmas Eve will find me, where the love light beams.
I’ll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams…
Christmas and home…they just seem to go together, don’t they? Just think about the songs we
hear at the mall or on the radio or at the grocery store. Songs of the season like “There’s no place like
home for the holidays” or “Please come home for Christmas,” or “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)”.
TV holiday specials inevitably glow with a vibe of family and of home. Family members often travel great
distances to “come home for Christmas”—to be with family and friends and to celebrate the holiday
together with loved ones.
Toady’s scripture text is taken from the book that bears the name of Zephaniah. (Let’s see a
show of hands: how many of you remember the last time when you heard a sermon from the book of
Zephaniah? Anyone?) If you’re looking for it in your Bible, it’s right there between Habakkuk and
Haggai—a little three chapter book toward the end of the Old Testament…
Zephaniah wrote during a time in Judah’s history when the king was a man named Josiah. Josiah
was a good and Godly king, unlike many of those who preceded him. During his reign, Josiah waged a
war against the pagan religions in the nation that took the place of worshiping the one true God. He
pulled down the altars to pagan gods wherever he found them. He ordered temples and shrines
destroyed. But sadly, his attempt to reform Judah’s religious life would not last. When Josiah died, many
of those reforms died with him. Pagan worship returned just as strong as before.
As a consequence, the prophet Zephaniah has a message from God about the future. Not
surprisingly, he speaks of a time of coming judgment. He begins by singling out a number of nations that
had plagued and persecuted his people—nations like Phisitia, and Moab, and Ammon, and Cush, and
Assyria. All these nations, God declares, will be subject to his anger. All of them will fall by the sword and
will be no more.
And then, in the third and final chapter of the book, God turns his attention to his own
rebellious people. He is especially harsh on the city of Jerusalem. He actually calls the city of Jerusalem
“the city of the oppressors” in Zechariah 3:1. (Quite an ironic name for a people who knew that their
ancestors were oppressed when they were slaves in Egypt. That must have been eye-opening to those
first readers of the book of Zephaniah…)
Because of their sin, God tells the people that they will also be subject to his righteous fury—just
like the pagan nations around them. God accuses Jerusalem of having lost its trust in him and of going
her own way. He especially calls out the religious professionals of the day. He accuses them all of being
arrogant and profane. God says that the priests and teachers do violence to his law instead of teaching it
and following it. Additionally he says that the ruling government officials are corrupt as well. He likens
them to roaring lions that leave nothing behind in the morning. God characterizes the unrighteous
among his people as those “who know no shame.” And because of their wickedness, God says that they
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shall receive their just reward. He sums up the coming judgment in verse 8 by saying that, “The whole
world will be consumed by the fire of my jealous anger.” It is all pretty intense stuff, to say the least…
But the tone of Zephaniah’s prophecy dramatically shifts in verse 9. There God tells his people
that, once his anger has subsided, he will purify them. He will bring them from their exile in foreign lands
back to the land of Israel, the land of their ancestors, the land of promise. He says that he will forgive
them of the wrongs that they have committed against him. In the land, people will live decently. They
will speak no lies and they will be able to live and work in safety. They will be able to eat and lie down in
peace. And no one will be able to make them afraid.
And then, in the final verse of the book, Zephaniah includes a thought that I want us to focus on
for the remaining time we have together. In verse 20, God says through the prophet, “At that time I will
bring you home, at the time when I gather you.” In essence, God says to his people that he will call to
them. And he will say to them one of those three phrases that we talked about earlier in the sermon. A
phrase that we all long to hear. That phrase is “Welcome home.”
Here is the main takeaway of the sermon: If Christmas is a time for coming home to family and
friends, how much more is it a time for spiritually coming home to God as well. Psalm 90:1 says, “Our
Lord, in all generations you have been our home.” (CEV) It is a great thing to know that your home is in
God. To know that you are at peace with God…to know that you are welcome in the arms of the Lord of
heaven and earth…to rest unafraid and confident in the goodness of the Lord and in his care for you…to
know that your needs will be well-supplied in him. That is what it means to be at home in God.
It seems to me that the Advent/Christmas season is one in which God extends an invitation to
welcome us home. Ultimately that is what the whole Christ event is about…it’s the reason why God sent
his son Jesus in the first place. In the same way that he spoke to the exiles in Zephaniah, God welcomes
his people home. He says that he will rejoice in them. He will renew them with his love. He will take
away the judgments against them that they may live in peace and tranquility. He will forgive them of
their wrongs and he will bring them into a right relationship with him.
That’s really why Jesus came. That’s why we celebrate with joy this time of the year. What is
more joyful than coming home after you have been away for a long time? What stirs the heart more
than being with the people that you love…and who know and love you…especially if you have been
absent from them for a long while? Isn’t that what all this business about “coming home for Christmas”
is really all about? And through the birth…and the life…and the resurrection of our Lord Jesus, God has
made it possible for us to come home to him…God is spiritually welcoming us home.
This is something of what the Apostle Paul wrote about in 2 Corinthians 5. In that chapter, Paul
talks about the reason for Christ coming. Paul writes that the purpose for Jesus coming to this earth was
to bring us closer to God. He writes that “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ.”
“Reconciling”—it is such a great word. “Reconciling the world to himself”…a reconciliation is a bringing
together of different parties who once stood apart…it is a time to agree together…it is a time to forgive
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whatever may have happened in the past and to look to the days ahead. That is what God was doing in
Christ…and this is what God does during the Christmas season. He extends an invitation to bring us
home in him…
The great gospel songwriter Fanny Crosby wrote a hymn that is not usually thought of as a song
to be sung during this season of the year. But it seems to me to be appropriate as we think about God
bringing us home at Christmas time. The song goes like this:
Jesus is tenderly calling you home, Calling today, calling today,
Why from the sunshine of love will you roam, farther and farther away?
Calling today, calling today,
Jesus is calling, is tenderly calling today.2
When people come home for Christmas, not everyone in the family travels the same distance.
Some live a long way from home because that is where their lives have taken them. Some may have to
travel all the way across the country—or even from overseas—in order to be home for the holidays. For
others, the distance may not be quite so far. For them, maybe they just need to travel only across the
state…or from a few towns over. Still others may not need to travel very far at all—maybe it’s just a
short distance to drive across town. Perhaps they just need to come home from a few streets over. It
does not matter. Regardless of how far it may be, they all want to come home for the holiday…
And as God calls us home during this holiday season, we all do not have the same distance to
travel either. Some of us have drifted far away from God. And for those who have drifted far away,
maybe it is a long distance. That is because their lives have caused them to drift far away from the God
in whom they have their home…For others, the trip may not be quite as long. And for others, maybe the
trip will be rather short. It really does not matter how far you have to come. At this Christmas season,
God wants to lead all of us home.
As the song says, “There is no place like home for the holidays.” What will your answer be to the
God leading you home during this holiday season? Regardless of where you may be in your spiritual life,
will you let God lead you home?
To God alone be the glory! Amen.
“Jesus is tenderly calling” by Fanny Crosby (1883). Hymn is in the public domain