I wonder if you can picture this scene in your mind’s eye? A man is standing outside his house; it’s a big house at the top of a hill, and he’s standing there, starring into the distance, waiting.
He’s been waiting there for many days. And then on one particular day, as the sun begins to set in the late afternoon, he notices something, or rather someone on the horizon.
The man stares more intently as the dot in the distance begins to come into clearer view, and when the dot becomes the shape of a person, the expression on the man’s face begins to change; a tear rolls down his face, and then another.
The man wipes his eyes to make sure he’s not seeing things, and he whispers to himself as the figure begins to draw closer, “It’s him, it’s him, he’s come home.”
The man begins to walk down the hill towards the considerably younger person who is trudging upwards. The man’s walk turns into a jog, then a run, and when the two figures meet the older one sweeps the younger off of his feet in an all-encompassing embrace; “My child, my child, you’re home!” he cries,
It is in the New Testament, specifically chapter fifteen of Luke’s gospel, where the Lord Jesus tells the story – the parable of the prodigal son – which contains that scene, and it’s in verse 20 where we read the description of this father & son reunion: “So the son got up and went to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.”
Those listening to Jesus tell his story would have been amazed to hear of the father running, because this wasn’t normal behaviour for a person of his age or status; an elder in an eastern community didn’t run, they walked.
I wonder what you look like when you run? I watched two children running down the hill towards Oddicombe beach last weekend, laughing & smiling as they ran, without a care in the world.
Older people don’t usually run like that? When I run, it doesn’t look great; I’m all over the place, acutely aware of all my aches & pains!
But the father in Jesus’ story didn’t care how he looked. He was so overjoyed to welcome his long-lost son home, that he rushed to him and gave him a big bear hug and smothered him in kisses. But there’s something that seems wrong in this homecoming scene, because the love and affection the son receives on his return home is so undeserved.
When, many weeks ago, he had left, he’d selfishly demanded from his dad the share of his inheritance, which he was due only after his father had died: “Dad, I wish you were dead” was his atrocious attitude.
The love and forgiveness he was now the recipient of was so unmerited. But that, in large part, is the point of the parable. The Bible constantly reminds us that the amazing grace God the Father offers his wayward children, such as me (and dare I say it, you), is utterly undeserved, and is solely based on who he is. “God is love”, his word tells me.
At Christmas time, we give presents to our loved ones, and as we do, we’re invited to celebrate the ultimate yuletide gift, born in a barn in Bethlehem, over two thousand years ago.
The baby Jesus who, thirty three years later, will be crucified on a hill outside of Jerusalem, makes the homecoming welcome the sinful (but repentant) son received, a possibility for every one of us.
1 John 4:9 & 10 sums up the message at the heart of Christmas: “This is how God showed his love among us: he sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”
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