Nothing is as debilitating as homelessness. Home is where the heart is. To not have a home is to have one’s heart ripped out. Nothing is worse than being homeless, for nothing is worse than losing one’s heart. To be uprooted and displaced means to be removed from life itself.
Advent reminds us that we are all homeless. Israel is a vine, Psalm 80 explains, which God carefully planted in the Promised Land. After an initial period of flourishing (“The mountains were covered with its shade, the mighty cedars with its branches; it sent out its branches to the sea, and its shoots to the River”), God gave his vineyard over to its enemies: “Why then hast thou broken down its walls, so that all who pass along the way pluck its fruit? The boar from the forest ravages it, and all that move in the field feed on it.” God’s people deported and the vineyard destroyed, their home is gone.
“Thou hast hid thy face from us,” laments Isaiah, “and hast delivered us into the hand of our iniquities” (Isa. 64:7). “Make thy name known to thy adversaries . . . that the nations might tremble at thy presence!” (64:2). Just as in Psalm 80, so in Isaiah 64, God’s people are in Babylon. They have lost their home. They have lost their heart. Both the psalmist and prophet cry out to God from the excruciating pain of homelessness.
The longing for a particular place is palpable in the cries of Asaph and Isaiah. Refugees and fugitives the world over instinctively and fittingly echo these readings. But we dare not immanentize the gospel: Only an allegorical reading of Asaph and Isaiah offers true hope to the homeless. After all, it is on the first Sunday of Advent that we read Psalm 80 and Isaiah 64. The deepest meaning of both passages, therefore, is found in the revelation (apokalypsis) of the Son of God.
Both the psalmist and the prophet urge the exiles to look for more than simply a return to the physical plot of land from which they have been banished. If the saying is true—“the home is where the heart is”—then Jesus himself is our true home. We are home when Jesus shows his face to us. We are home when Jesus makes his home with us at Christmastime.
“Show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved” is the repeated refrain of Psalm 80. “Turn now, O God of hosts, look down from heaven; behold and tend this vine” (80:14). “Rend the heavens and come down,” cries the prophet (Isa. 64:1). “You have hidden your face from us” (64:7). “Please look, we are all your people” (64:9). We are home when we see the face of God in Bethlehem’s crib.
We still wait for the revealing (apokalypsis) of our Lord Jesus Christ, Saint Paul tells the Corinthians (1 Cor. 1:7). In his so-called “Little Apocalypse,” Jesus himself reminds us that we are waiting for his coming in clouds with great power and glory (Mark 13:24). These New Testament readings tell us how to read the psalmist and the prophet: Asaph’s and Isaiah’s cries express not only the natural desire for the native land of one’s birth. They express the universal longing for home that is fulfilled only when God in Jesus makes his home with us.
Pope Benedict XVI, in his book Jesus of Nazareth, explains that the “place” where the cloud took Jesus in his Ascension is “God’s right hand.” Asking what this expression means, the pope comments: “It does not refer to some distant cosmic space, where God has, as it were, set up his throne and given Jesus a place beside the throne. God is not in one space alongside other spaces.” The longing of Christians in exile is not primarily for a physical place of security. Our longing is fulfilled when we see Jesus coming in clouds with power and glory (cf. Mark 13:26).
At no time of the Christian year do we experience our homelessness more acutely than at Advent. Holding out for Christmas, we cry out for Jesus to end our exile—to be our final home.
Hans Boersma is the Saint Benedict Servants of Christ Professor in Ascetical Theology at Nashotah House Theological Seminary.
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