Every spring, my mother stood over the double boiler for what seemed like hours, stirring and measuring the temperature of its contents. She was making chocolate and peanut butter fudge. In the manner of many holiday traditions, Easter fudge began spontaneously—more afterthought than deliberate intention. It was an improvisational act, and my brother and I begged, year after year, for an encore.
Homemade fudge was a predictable part of our family’s annual celebration—until our family became less predictable. My father died. Then my brother. Then my mother remarried, and we were celebrating holidays in a new house with my stepfather’s family, claiming relation to strangers with whom we’d just recently made acquaintance. Easter felt less like Easter, and home felt less like home. In fact, the only predictable thing, on holidays or any other day of the year, was the homesickness.
Far From Home
Home is the desire of the human heart, homesickness its grief. The Bible itself gives witness to humanity’s longing for—and distance from—home. As an early example, Jacob, Abraham’s grandson and father of the 12 tribes of Israel, led an unsettled life. Though God had promised a home to Abraham, his children, and his children’s children, most of the episodes of Jacob’s life find him in an in-between place. It’s almost as if the readers of Genesis recognize Jacob only when he is running from one location to another.
As a young man, Jacob was forced to leave home when his twin brother hatched a plan to kill him. In Genesis 28, we find Jacob somewhere between Beersheba and Haran, his head resting on a stone pillow under a night sky. Here, he unexpectedly meets God and receives His promises: “I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land” (Gen. 28:15). The in-between place, Bethel, becomes the “house of God.”
Jacob then arrives in Haran and is greeted warmly by his uncle Laban, and by his cousins—two sisters—whom he eventually marries. But 20 years of stability do not forge belonging to the place or its people. Jacob is cheated of a fair wage, and his uncle and male cousins begrudge him his prosperity. Go home, God tells him: “I am the God of Bethel … now arise, leave this land, and return to the land of your birth” (Gen. 31:13). Jacob packs up his household to return to Canaan, crossing yet another border like a fugitive.
In the third and final scene of border crossing, Jacob prepares to meet his brother Esau, who is traveling with 400 companions—just the right number for suggesting war, not peace. Worrying that Esau will exact his revenge, Jacob prays to the God he met more than 20 years earlier: “O God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, O Lord who said to me, ‘Return to your country’ … ‘Deliver me, I pray, from the hand of my brother’” (Gen. 32:9-11). God answers that prayer: The brothers reconcile, and Jacob enters the land with his family.
But the remaining years are no happily-ever-after. Genesis records the trauma of Jacob’s daughter’s rape as they settle into their new neighborhood. Jealousy grows up like a poisonous weed among his 12 sons, seeding hatred and violence, and Joseph, the favored child, is sold as a slave into the house of Potiphar. And though the family is eventually reunited many years later, it requires that the entire household leave Canaan; Jacob never returns.
Like so many of us, Jacob was a bird looking to roost, finding no place to call home.
Homecoming Made Possible
Humanity’s story begins in a garden where human beings are hospitably welcomed by a homemaking God. It begins at home. Theirs is a “very good” world, not simply because it teems with life and possibility for our human ancestors, but because it is a place for keeping company with the Creator, who has graciously given to His children the tasks of work and worship (Gen. 1:31; see also Gen. 2:15).
But home is a momentary happiness, lost when Eve and Adam eat the fruit God has forbidden and are sentenced to exile. An angelic sentry is posted to prevent their return, and more tragically, they are cursed to die.
But God did not leave His children bereft. Instead, He left heaven and pitched His tent in a small village in Roman-occupied Palestine. As the gospel writer John explains, Jesus was rejected and eventually crucified. Yet His estrangement bought our homecoming, and His forsakenness became our welcome. Because of Jesus and His voluntary sacrifice, the door to our eternal home—once closed because of sin—is thrown open again: “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him” (John 14:23). Salvation means the wanderers return.
According to the gospel, homesickness is humanity’s momentary affliction. Like Jacob, we understand, even (or most especially) during the holidays, that we are not fully at home in this world. But a new day dawns because of Jesus Christ. The shadows of sin and death are driven back, and home, according to Revelation 21, becomes our forever happiness.
Illustrations by Adam Cruft