By Deacon Frederick Bartels
23 December 2017
I’m sure you’re familiar with homesickness. Perhaps you, like me, feel a little homesick right now. Perhaps you, like me, feel as if you’re never really home, no matter where you go, no matter where you live.
During my high-school years, my family lived in an old farmhouse in the country about seven miles outside of Simla, Colorado, a small town consisting of a post office, gas station, grocery store, a lone sheriff, hotel, and a school. And that’s about it. Of course, there were a few other businesses. The point is, it was a very small town. Everybody knew everybody. There were no stoplights or even stop-signs on the main road, which meant you could drive entirely through town, from one tiny end to the other, in the span of about three minutes at 25 mph.
Out on the farm, the closest neighbor was three-quarters of a mile away, down a smooth, sandy road. The only trees to be found were those that served as windbreaks for the sparse farmhouses scattered at regular one-mile intervals. The land was what some describe as “prairie grassland,” broken by an occasional ravine, crested with gentle, rolling hills. Farmers in the area often raised wheat as their main crop. Some drove cattle. Many did both. Summers were hot, dry and windy. Winters were dark, exceedingly cold and … windy. It was not uncommon for blizzards to whip up with startling rapidity. And when they did, nobody went anywhere, lest they were unconcerned by casually toying with their life.
As a senior in high-school with graduation approaching, I pinned a calendar on the wall of my bedroom in the basement. As each day drew to a close, I crossed through it with a bold red “X” using a marking pen with a squashed point. If anyone asked me, I could tell them exactly how many days remained to graduation.
I was excited to start a new life. Find a new home. Acquire my freedom. My heart longed for … something. The last “X” on the calendar signaled the beginning of that quest.
A few days after the small but memorable ceremony, I eagerly packed my few belongings into a red Plymouth Duster. I fitted my guitar and amp in the trunk and my clothes and stereo in the back seat, and said goodbye to my parents and the farmhouse. My planned destination was Craig, Colorado, where I would be employed as a union laborer on the Yampa Project, a large coal-driven power-plant under construction. College wasn’t on my horizon. That wouldn’t happen for many years.
I wanted to get out into the world, make a new start. If someone had asked me what I was looking for at that time, I probably would have said something like freedom or happiness or to “make my way in life.” But I didn’t understand what it really meant to have those things, nor how to acquire them. I certainly didn’t understand what life was really about. The better answer would have been that I was looking for my real home—Although I didn’t know it, I wanted to find the perfect home.
But that home cannot be found by searching for it in the world.
I worked in Craig for about two years. First the Yampa Project, then as a framer on a construction site. I learned the meaning of driving nails with frozen fingers and bucking sheeting up ladders. After that, I moved again. And then again and again. And all the while, wherever I went, I felt a little homesick. At one point, I ended up back in Simla for a short time and lived in an upstair’s apartment off the main road through town. I visited the farmhouse and my parents. I found some of my old high-school friends. But none of that was a cure. Although I was “back home,” I wasn’t at home.
I’m still homesick. After all those years, after all those moves. But things are different now because I understand why I’m homesick. I understand not only where the perfect home is, but how to get there. And where is this perfect home? It’s God’s house. I long to cross its threshold. It’s for this home that I’ve been created. It’s this home for which I long.
It’s the home every human heart seeks—whether realized or not, whether admitted or not, whether understood or not.
That longing—for the perfect home—is what Advent is all about. Why? Because it is in an intimate relationship of personal communion with Jesus that we indeed cross its threshold. And Advent is about preparing for that kind of relationship. In joining with the Savior of humankind, we step into his kingdom—right here, right now. Although we do not yet reside fully and definitively in our perfect, heavenly home, we nevertheless have stepped inside it in a real way by virtue of our self-entrustment to the Redeemer. One day, if we’re patient and faithful and cooperate with God’s grace to the end, we shall sit at the heavenly banquet table permanently. We will forever live in the place for which we were made and destined. Then, in that perfect home, we will fully understand the meaning of these words:
“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Cor. 2:9).
The Advent message is a message of hope based on the divine promise of a most excellent dwelling God the Father has specially prepared for those who love him. Advent reminds us, Christ is the way to that place, to that perfect home for which every human heart longs:
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also.” (Jn 14:1-7)
The message of Advent is that homesickness is temporary. Its cure is Christ. I came that you “may have life, and have it abundantly” (Jn 10:10), says Jesus.
As Christmas dawns, so too does the Christ Child arrive whose entire life was and is ordered to one purpose and mission: leading us to the perfect home.
Deacon Frederick Bartels is a member of the Catholic clergy who serves the Church in the diocese of Pueblo. He holds an MA in Theology and Educational Ministry and is a Catholic educator, public speaker, and evangelist who strives to infuse culture with the saving principles of the gospel.