Leaving Home and Finding It Again

The family tree of Jesus Christ, David’s son, Abraham’s son (Matt. 1:1, The Message).

We’re hearing plenty about home these days.

There’s something about Christmas that extols the idea of home. We hear songs about how there’s no place like home for the holidays; we hear the wistful pining of one promising to be home for Christmas.

Some of you know exactly what this is about. You have plans to go home for Christmas. You may be eager for that journey home, even if it’s a short one. You may be dreading it; that might explain why you ended up so far from home to begin with.

In the midst of a season that idealizes home and the holiday pilgrimage, it is interesting to see how Matthew leads us through the lengthy genealogy or “family tree” of Jesus by mentioning two people who are notable for the exact opposite: Abraham and Ruth.

The First Fourteen

If you’ll take time to read it (and many people don’t) you’ll notice that Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus falls neatly into three sets of fourteen generations: Abraham to David, David to the Babylonian exile, the exile to Jesus. The first fourteen generations are bracketed by two names. At one end stands Abraham and close to the other end stands Ruth. What they share in common is their obedient departure from the place they knew as home.

Abraham and his clan were well established in a place known as Ur. God showed up there abruptly, without warning, and uprooted this man from all that was familiar and safe. God came with command and promise, the most familiar forms of God’s word to us. The command: leave your home and go to a land that I will show you. The promise: I will make a great nation of you and your descendants. Abraham went. He packed up and left home and never went back.

Ruth was raised in the land of Moab. Her very name in the genealogy of Jesus should surprise us. Not being a Hebrew woman, she seems out of place here. But Ruth was the daughter-in-law of a Hebrew woman named Naomi. A famine in Judah had forced Naomi to live in Moab for a time. But after the death of her husband and sons, with an improved economy back in Judah, Naomi planned to return. Ruth insisted on going with her. Interestingly, Ruth’s new home will be in a place called Bethlehem.

Ruth left her home and went to a distant place to live among a people she didn’t know. There, far from home, Ruth married Boaz and became the great grandmother of David.

Finding Our True Home

It’s a good thing to go home for Christmas. But maybe being away from home is where we learn to truly trust God. Some of you may be away from home because life took you there. It wasn’t your plan. Others of you may be far from home because you couldn’t get away quick enough. Either way – what leaving home offers all of us is a chance to discover where our true home is. Home is living in the will of God, waking every day to follow wherever he might lead.

Once we find our true home in God, maybe we find that it’s easier to go “home” – back to the place and people who have shaped who we are. Having found our true home, we don’t expect “home” to be the perfect idealized place that Christmas songs celebrate. We don’t burden those closes to us with our expectations of perfection. We don’t impatiently roll our eyes at the struggles and flaws of those who share our blood.

And speaking of struggles and flaws, having found our true home we know all too well that we have been loved and accepted by a God who didn’t demand that we get ourselves together first. We come to know that home is a place where we practice showing to others the grace that we ourselves have received. Hopefully we discover that home is a place where we can find grace too. Our homes and families are a great gift. But they are not God. They were never meant to be.

So how will you go home? That not a question about whether you’ll drive or fly. It’s a way of asking if you can be in that place – even if it’s just across town, or even your own house – knowing that you belong to God. You won’t burden relatives with a need that only God can meet.

He is indeed our dwelling place throughout all generations (Psalm 90:1). Our true home.


We give you thanks, O God, for examples of men and women who have followed you at great cost. Help us to be like them, finding our true home in you, ready to go where you lead us. Bless our journeys home in this season. And bless us as we leave again to live as your people in this world, we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Your ‘Humble Estate’

My soul magnifies the Lord . . . for he has looked upon the humble estate of his servant (Luke 1:46-48).

A couple of nights ago I spent some time in a hospital waiting room, keeping company with parents who were living through the upside down.

I don’t know if they would describe it that way – but that’s what I’ll call it. An ICU waiting room is a place often marked by two things that define the upside down. No one is there because they planned to be or wanted to be. And whatever it is that’s happening is entirely beyond the control of those who have been shown to a room in which they are supposed to simply wait.

Waiting. We do a lot of that in the upside down.

What we didn’t do much of in that waiting room was sing. At least not while I was there. And the people who I saw enter that waiting room, living in their own upside-down stories – none of them looked like they wanted to sing either. As mentioned several days ago, few of us can manage to sing in the upside down.

So that brings me back to a question that we didn’t fully answer in the previous post. How is it that Mary magnifies the Lord with her song when her life has been rocked by an unexpected calling. True, Mary’s upside down was not tragic, but it was no less disruptive. And in that place her soul magnified the Lord.

How did she do that? How do we do that?

Attributes and Actions

To get an answer to that question we need to listen to the rest of Mary’s song. What you’ll hear in her words is a relentless focus on God. Mary resists the modern tendency to wallow in her own thoughts and emotions. Mary’s life experience does not define her reality. Her song takes up two themes: Who God is, and what God has done. God’s attributes. God’s actions.

First, God’s attributes. Mary’s song names three in particular. God is mighty. God is holy. God is merciful. And then God’s actions. Here we see a central theme of the song, a great reversal of the way the world works. The proud and arrogant are brought down and the humble are lifted up. The rich and glutted are deprived and left empty-handed, while the hungry and needy are filled with good things.

This reality seems especially significant for Mary. She is living the truth of those words. She says so plainly. Her soul magnifies the Lord because “he has looked upon the humble estate of his servant.” That phrase – “humble estate” – shows up twice in the song.

But what is it?

Why does God look upon or have regard for it?

And most importantly, where is it in your life?

The ‘Why’ Behind ‘Magnify’

At one level, Mary’s humble estate is obvious. It was her socio-economic place in first century Judea. She was humble, not merely in her posture or attitude before God, but because she lacked influence and affluence. Nothing about her ‘position’ in life qualified her to be the mother of God’s incarnate son.

Later in her song, however, we see that the ‘humble estate’ is set in direct contrast to those who are “proud in the thoughts of their hearts.” That gives us a little more insight into our own humble estate.

What is it? Our humble estate is the lowly place or circumstance in our life. It’s the part of us that will never be posted to Facebook or Instagram. A few people may know about it – but we rarely speak of it and we definitely don’t boast in it. The humble estate is the place of our limitations, the end of our smarts and strength and good looks. People in ICU waiting rooms are in such a lowly place.

Why does God look upon or have regard for this? Because this is the very place where God shows himself sufficient for us. God is far more glorified in the place of our need than in the place of our competence and strength. His power is made perfect in our weakness (2 Cor. 12:9).

God has a way of showing up in our lowliest moments and lowliest places. That’s the ‘why’ behind ‘magnify.’

Now the last question. Where is that place for you? Where is your humble estate?”

This Advent resist the typical temptation to either deny or ignore or just resign yourself to those lowly places. That might be a physical affliction, a fractured family, a dead-end job, a depression that won’t lift, a habit you can’t seem to kick.

Let God meet you in that humble estate. And just maybe you’ll discover a ‘why’ that allows you to magnify.


Mighty, Holy, and Merciful God. We would be the kind of people who magnify you with our lives, seeing you as great in the middle of our upside-down moments. You meet us in the lowly places, the very places we work so hard to avoid. Give us courage to embrace our humble estate, and there find you, as well as a reason to sing in this season of Advent. We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Every Soul Magnifies Something

My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my savior . . . (Luke 1:46-47).       

Few of us can manage a song in the upside down.

The Psalmists were skilled in taking their confusion and disorientation and giving expression to it in poems or songs of lament. Most of us lack those gifts. Still, in the upside down our complaints and questions come easily, flooding the brain and often spilling from our mouth. With some effort we might choke out a prayer – usually a plea for help, groping for some guidance that will take us back to upright. Or perhaps we withdraw and curl up into our own silence. But singing? Not likely.

In the Christmas stories we find in scripture, there’s hardly a more upside-down narrative than the story of Mary. This unmarried young woman learns from the angel Gabriel that she has “found favor with God.” But what this means might have sounded like anything but favor. She “will be with child and give birth to a son . . . and he will be called Son of the Most High” (Luke 1:31-32). This conversation changed the trajectory of her life. What God was doing in her and through her didn’t fit the accepted order of events.

Follow the story the closely and you’ll see Mary move from “greatly troubled” (1:29) to a submissive yielding to God’s word and will (1:38), and eventually to a song (1:46-55). And her song was not a lament. Mary’s song was praise from start to finish – and that’s what’s so remarkable about the way she responds to the upside down.

Look at the words she sings, and you’ll not see the slightest hint of complaint or question. There’s not one word about her reputation or her future. Mary gives voice to her awe of God’s mighty works, both for her and for his people.

The ‘Magnificat’

Mary’s song is widely known as The Magnificat. You don’t need an advanced degree in classics to see that ‘Magnificat’ is a Latin form of a word found in the very first line of the song. Mary opens by declaring “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my savior” (Luke 1:46-47).

Our English ‘magnify’ renders the Greek word megaluno and it means exactly what you might guess: to make large. The verb shows up eight times in the Greek New Testament with a varied but similar shades of meaning: to exalt, to highly regard, to show as great. The NIV Bible translates Mary’s opening line “my soul glorifies the Lord.” We find the same idea in the Hebrew scriptures at Psalm 34:3. “O magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together.”

So now that we know what Mary is saying we’re left with the obvious question. How does the soul magnify the Lord? Can we do that? And if we can, what will it look like?

Let’s begin here: Every soul magnifies something. And whatever we look to for our sense of well-being, wherever we find our deepest satisfaction and fulfillment, whatever gives us our greatest joy – that’s what we magnify. Mary helps us understand ‘magnify’ when she adds the words “and my spirit rejoices in God my savior.”

What’s the Big Deal?

Honestly, I find that Mary’s song forces me to take hard look at where I find my sense of well-being and satisfaction – and her song leads me to confession.

Sometimes my soul magnifies my iPhone. When mine stopped charging a few weeks ago I felt mild panic taking root in some deep place. And when the car went to the shop for something minor, only to discover a major and costly repair, my soul magnified my Honda Accord.

The human soul can magnify things: it can magnify work, it can magnify an important relationship, it can magnify a football team. The soul is capable of rejoicing in so many things that are not God.

Here’s a clue for us: whatever feels like a big deal is probably what our soul magnifies.

The point of Mary’s song is not to rebuke us for all the joy we might find in people or work or good food or even something we own. It does remind us that none of those things can bear the weight of our happiness in the upside down. None of those can pull a song from our heart.

In the upside down we need more than an iPhone or a reliable car.

What’s going on in your life right now that seems large, imposing, a big deal? And how do you live in the middle of that and yet magnify the Lord? Mary’s song holds an answer to that, and we’ll take a closer look in the next post.


My soul can magnify so many things, O God. Make me grateful for all your gifts – but help me to find my deepest joy and satisfaction in you alone. Whatever the big deal is that confronts me today, show yourself greater, sufficient for me in all things, I ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Upside Down at Christmas

“. . . he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble” (Luke 1:51-52).

At Universal Studios in Orlando there’s a roller coaster called “The Hulk.”

This roller coaster lives up to its name in a couple of ways. First, it’s large and imposing, dominating one corner of the park with a massive system of rails that sprawl and twist and loop. Get anywhere near it and you’ll hear the roar of it mingled with the screams of those who happen to be riding it. “The Hulk” also lives up to its name in that once the ride is over, there’s a good chance you’ll crawl out of your seat looking slightly green.

We’ve been to universal Studios a few times over the years, usually working in a day or so with our time at Disney World. I’ve never had a problem riding “The Hulk,” especially if my kids were eager to get on it. On our last visit to Universal, however, “The Hulk” left me feeling a little green when it finally came to a stop. I had gladly taken my seat on “The Hulk” and I was just as glad to get off it. I wasn’t sick, but I wasn’t quite right either. Seems the fluids around my brain (and elsewhere) had not appreciated being repeatedly sloshed upside down and then quickly right side up.

Maybe it’s age, which I hate to admit. But for whatever reason, being upside down isn’t as fun as it once was.

Where God Shows Up

To be upside down is to be disoriented, thrown off-kilter, out of control. On a roller-coaster that can be entertaining, at least for a while, for some people. But in our life, we’ll work hard to avoid ‘upside down.’ We work hard to stay on our feet, managing circumstances and outcomes and other people as best we can. To be right side up is to be in the best position possible to make sense of what’s happening around us and to us.

The upside down is what we experience when life is thrown around by unexpected and unwelcomed events or circumstances. We have different ways of speaking about this. We’re blindsided, caught off guard, rug pulled out from under the feet. Whatever you call it, it’s disorienting to us and it can leave us feeling a sickness of soul.

During the weeks of Advent we’re going to be thinking of this theme: “The Upside Down of Christmas.” The biblical stories that surround the birth of Jesus are often stories of something unexpected. God is interrupting history in ways that are at times disorienting for those involved. God is doing some surprising things.

The one who has come to be Israel’s king is born in obscurity.

The announcement of this birth is not made at the temple to priests and scholars, but in the rural countryside to night-shift shepherds.

The one foretold by Israel’s prophets is entirely ignored by the religious class of Jerusalem but sought and worshipped by visitors from Persia.

Simply stated, God shows up in the upside down.

Waiting and Watching in the Upside Down

What’s upside down in your life right now?

You may be able to answer honestly that nothing is upside down. Everything in your world is right where it should be, and your feet are firmly planted on solid ground. Indeed, God shows up in those places as well. In fact, God delights in blessing us that way. “My foot stands on level ground; in the great assembly I will bless the Lord” (Psalm 26:2). The right side up is a place to give thanks to God.

But a life of faith is not always lived on level ground, right side up. And the upside down is not evidence that faith is lacking or inadequate. The place of disorientation is also a place of invitation. God may have something for you that you would not know in the right side up.

In these days of Advent, place the upside-down places of your life before God and invite him to come meet you there. Wait and look for his arrival – the very meaning of the word ‘Advent.’


Gracious God, the upside-down in my life seems so out of place in this season. I want my world right side up – family, finances, health, relationships. Give me grace to wait on you in what I find disorienting and threatening. Help me not to deny or ignore or avoid the very places where you are eager to show your power and love. Come in these days of Advent and find us in surprising ways, we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.