My son was coming home. He was studying overseas, but now he was coming home. I was to pick him up at the Charleston Airport at midnight. It would be my first opportunity to see him in three months.
I arrived at the airport 45 minutes early just in case his flight was early. Hoping a flight is early is a useless fantasy, but the status board showed me that the flight was on time. I found a waiting area near where arriving passengers passed from the secured area to the exit.
The way the Charleston Airport is designed, arriving passengers must walk through a glass door into a glass airlock. The door behind the passenger closes, and then the door in front of the passenger opens. There is a glass window beside this exit, three stories tall, where you can see people moving, walking back and forth in the secured area.
The airport was dead at 11:45 p.m. My son's flight was the last one for the night. The status board shifted his flight from "On-time" to "Landed" to "At the Gate." I got up and stood by the towering glass window, hoping to catch a first glance.
The first people off are the first-class passengers. They are focused, on the move and eager to take up their next mission. It was the next group of passengers that fascinated me. An older couple came by, holding hands like they were in middle school. Then, the businesswoman who is rolling her luggage, checking her phone and missing the exit. Embarrassed, she wheels around, hoping no one noticed. Two college-age girls come through in sweats, headphones on, looking half awake. Other travelers come by, some charging for the luggage carousel, some sauntering toward the parking garage.
By now, 15 minutes have passed. It takes a long time to completely unload a plane. I am peering through the window, still hoping for that first glimpse. I think he must have sat at the back of the plane.
More people come by: two elderly women being pushed in wheelchairs, a family with three children, one fast asleep on Daddy's shoulder. A pilot comes through, eager to get to bed so he can fly out the next day. I am almost on my tiptoes, craning my neck to see my son.
I'm not anxious; I'm anticipating. A thought comes into my mind: Jesus told a story like this. There was a Son who was a long way away from his Father. Unlike my son, he had told his father to go ahead and divide up the property between his brother and himself. He cashed out, went and had a good time. But he ran out of cash and ran into hard times. After a while, he realized home wasn't so bad after all. He worked out a speech, hoping his Dad would take him back as a servant.
Jesus gave the story this deliberate detail: "While he (the son) was far off, his father saw him, and ran to him " I wonder how many days the Dad looked at the road passing by the house expectantly. Thousands of people must have passed by during that long time his son was gone. The Dad would see a far-off figure, and his heart would lift; could this be his son? It would turn out to be a businessman traveling from village to village or someone's aunt coming for an extended visit. I wonder how many times the Father's heart fell. I wonder how painful it was for him.
Jesus does not state the point, but it is clear. The Father in the story is our Heavenly Father. He is looking with eager expectation for his children who have wandered away.
I know people who have left the Father's house. They have decided to do life on their own terms. It goes well for a while. They get cocky. Then, the unexpected happens. Their dreams are in ruins. Friendships turn out to be nothing more than arrangements. They lost everything they had.
The sad part is shame keeps these folks from turning back to their Heavenly Father. They are embarrassed to admit they were wrong. They start a self-narrative that says, "God wouldn't want anything to do with someone like me." They believe they have committed an unforgivable sin. Some people think if they come to God, he will make their life miserable.
If you ever feel this way, remember the story Jesus told. The Father runs to the Son. It's the opposite of what we expect. We expect the Son to run to the Father. Jesus is telling us that God loves you so much that he is not only looking for you, but also runs to you when he sees you.
Finally, I caught a glimpse of my son through the glass. I waved and strode the six steps to the security exit. When he came through the doors, I did not run; he was only two steps away. But opened my arms and pulled him in. My son was home.
Your Heavenly Father is looking for you. His arms are open. It's time to come home.
The Rev. Dr. Clay Smith is the lead pastor of Alice Drive Baptist Church in Sumter. Email him at email@example.com.
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