Summary: Christ comes to dwell in our messy, imperfect homes, just as they are, to build love, not a museum-like perfection.

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A house is not a home. A house is not a home. A house is a house, and it may be lovely to look at and fine to visit, but a house, by itself, is not a home. What is the difference?

Let me tell you a tale of two houses. These are the best of houses, these are the worst of houses. See if you can tell me which is a home.

One of those houses is straight off the cover of Architectural Digest. Its floors gleam with fresh wax; its walls are bright with unspotted hues; its drapes, its paint, its furnishings are all color-coordinated, with not one clashing item. Tasteful accents are here and there, pretending to be random but actually carefully placed, not one centimeter to the left or the right. In this house, the climate-control system balances temperature, humidity, particle count, and the ozone level. The windows are specially treated with an electron layer that repels dust and haze both inside and out. The lighting is on sensors, so that as the day darkens, selected lights come up, slowly and gradually, keeping a soft glow in the room no matter what is happening outside. In fact, it little matters what happens outside, for the room is controlled, sealed off.

Across a carpet, on which, mysteriously, no footprints appear, stands a group of people. Their clothing coordinates with the decor of the room. They are elegantly accessorized, their teeth line up in perfect smiles, and their hair is styled and shaped. They are speaking with one another, but very carefully. Very cautiously. Cool; calm; and collected. They remind you of the answer to the old question, “How do porcupines hug each other?” “Very carefully.” That’s one house.

The other house is straight off the cover of Antiques Road Show. Its floors, so far as we can see them, could use attention, particularly where the dog’s toenails have scratched. Its walls have on them some small grimy hand-prints, about so high, and its furnishings are a mixed bag of early orange crate and later K-Mart. Its drapes sag a little, its paint is cracked here and there, and where the magazines have been piling up, there is a coffee cup, half empty, and a pizza box, half full. It’s a little dark, as one of the light bulbs is burned out, and the other is hidden by someone’s sweater, pitched over the lamp in a hurry to go answer the phone.

On the other side of this room I see some people talking. It seems very animated. It’s loud; in fact, it’s an argument. They are raising their voices and waving their hands. One of them has her hands on her hips and is giving it the old foot-stomping effect. And another is shaking his head as vigorously as his old neck will allow. Sort of tense over there. Heated. Stressful!

Which of these houses is a home? Truly a home? I will not ask you which yours is like. I know which one mine is like; even though my wife was born with a paintbrush in her hand and remodeling dreams in her head, I know which one my house is like. For I know where home is. Home is where the stresses are brought and are dealt with. Home is not a museum-like perfection; home is where the issues of life get fought out, but they can be resolved, because home is where somebody loves you. Home is where somebody puts up with you. A house is just a shell, a showplace, a facade; a home, as the poet Robert Frost said, is where, when you go there, they have to take you in. A house is not a home. Hear the Hoosier poet James Whitcomb Riley, “It takes a heap o’ livin’ to make a house a home.”

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Geoffrey Gunter

commented on Nov 24, 2006

I like the clear way you differentiated between a House-a building and a Home- relationships.

Gareth Griffiths

commented on Nov 26, 2008

Thanks for your thoughts about homes and houses in an incarnational setting.

Steve Dunning

commented on Dec 15, 2011

Very touching. A word from the Lord that this preacher really needed to hear. Thanks so much for sharing. God Bless! And Merry Christmas to all of you!

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