The Christmas season, with all its grand memories of Christmas’ past, set me to thinking about the great paradox of Home: that place we are always trying to find; leaving to arrive; indeed losing to find. Home is a thing we may have only by not wanting it; get by not choosing it. Home is where we are born by accident; fall into by stumbling over it. Home is what we find only in the last place we look.
In conversations with anyone patient enough to listen to me ramble on about life, which is life in Christ, I will often return to the idea of “home” at exactly the moment I have wandered too far away from it and come upon a washed-out bridge of my thoughts; stalling at some deep canyon or other. And it always has the same effect: We move again. We walk again—two humans, arm in arm.
Because home is a place of perfect paradox; which is paradoxically a place of perfect peace. It is a door which suddenly appears in the middle of nowhere, becoming the one place where two things that should not go together somehow do.
Like life. And the peace of living along with it.
A distinct recollection I have of Christmas Eve in my childhood home (only now that I am recollecting it) is the absence of an ever-present terror in my life: selfishness. Which seems at odds with the occasion because I was never a gift giver, but ever a gift receiver. Yet the home, the family, the parents, the atmosphere, the lights, the tree, the gifts, the silence, the night—everything and everyone around hearth and home, it seems, had been captured for one Holy Night by a Spirit whose greatest gift was casting out selfishness from our midst. At the very throne of the Expectation of Getting—Unselfishness reigned supreme.
It is not to say there wouldn’t be selfishness later; bringing with it jealousy, anger, discontent, and discourtesy; but that evening, “The Night before Christmas,” two things at least seemed to be happening at the same time; two things supposedly opposed became friends; two things normally separated by time itself occupied the same space:
The Expected was somehow, for its expectedness, the Most Unexpected.
The child-soul yearning for tomorrow’s joy was somehow, for its yearning, finally content in today’s.
The mystery was somehow, for its twilight mysteriousness, the great answer.
The certain was somehow, for its calendrical certainty, the biggest surprise—one watched and waited for all night.
The formal was somehow, for the deep ruts of its formality, all the more festive.
The common, the possible, the closest and the real was somehow—for its wide and mighty commonness, possible-ness, closeness, and realness—the most uncommon, the most impossible, the furthest away, and the most magical.
Home was somehow, for its homeliness, a heaven.
The advent of Christ is the advent of home. It is God’s homecoming, the kingdom come. The door at which Jesus stands outside—the door out—is the door home.
(1 Corinthians 11:23ff)
What did the apostle Paul receive of the Lord that which he also delivered unto you?
He received a memory. A memory of something. Of bodies and blood. A night. A supper. God’s very last. A memory of Jesus broken and poured out, given unto those he loved—feeding those he loved with himself.
Paul received something else. A memory of something important about that night. A night-lesson Jesus commanded his students to forever mark in their minds—a stake within their heads that upon remembering would drive straight through their hearts. Jesus raised his hand holding up a new covenant and told them in this cup was his utter commitment to them.
Remember this night.
The supper was Jesus’ last because it was the night He was utterly betrayed. It was on this night that covenants and commitments were sealed and solidified for eternity through the breaking of them; where everything established was established forevermore by their dissolution; where everything that was good was purified, exalted, and made perfect by the evil done to it; where every man revealed the true form of his belief by betraying the object of it. This night each and everyone proclaimed in anger or despair, it matters not which, the Lord’s death. It was for man, on the night of his final union with them, the night of his betrayal by them, that the Lord Jesus took the bread, and when he had given thanks for this great gift, he broke it.
And said, “This is my body, which is broken for you.”
Paul received it too. Not in the upper room, but on a road. And he gave what he got.
For St. Paul received also this same memory, this lesson, this last supper from the Lord. He also proclaimed the Lord’s death; proclaimed full and proud and happy and loud and miserable and hateful; proclaimed it to everyone. Long and long Saul of Tarsus had supped unworthily; guiltily on Christ’s suffering. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. With the taste of the blood of Steven fresh in his mind and mouth he proclaimed the death of the lamb to the Lord of Shepherds; proclaimed the death of Love to Love’s Creator.
Right up until He came back. Then Paul remembered. And when he did, he remembered everything.
Paul, the former king of a life unexamined, warned those he called his children, “But let a man examine himself…
Lest he be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord…
For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”
A life unexamined is a life untransformed.
“And so often as ye do this, do it in remembrance of me.”
The most important, the most sublime, the deepest, and the truest thing you may know about anything is what it says to you when you open your eyes and look at it. The first thing you see speaks everything you need to know—more than history or science could ever say were they to have eternity to research it.
“Lord help me to see and listen, rather than to know and understand!”
A baby opens its eyes and sees a brand new universe. I open my eyes each morning to wife, to bed, to sun, to family, to food, to sky, to flower, to friends, to work, to night, to stars, and to rest. When I open my eyes to truth in these and close them to my dissection of them, I open my eyes to God. The show, the first thing, what is visible, tells me of the invisible. But we often fall into the ademic trap of the reverse: what is invisible will tell us what we see.
God’s idea is man. God’s idea is not an invisible man: his DNA or history or anatomy. Those are just the creator’s tools to make him. When a man sees this, when he opens his eyes and sees himself rather than what he thinks about himself, he begins to see God.
Why does the former always have a problem with the latter?
Or, why does before have difficulty with after?
Or old, a problem with the new?
St. Paul says something like: Because the old man gets lost in thinking that what comes after should be even older somehow. He comes to believe, as an old man, that God’s creature is bound to get older and older, when of course, God’s creature can only be bound to get newer and newer; in fact, must continue on and on this way until he is just as soft, supple and obedient as child held in the arms of God. He believes the younger serves the older, when it is the older who actually serves the younger.
The old man becomes unaware that he faces the wrong way; believing he walks toward oldness when in fact, he walks backwards toward newness. And should he ever turn around, sadly, maybe with envy in his old heart, the young and the new—bright as the morning sun—will walk in front instead of behind him. Yet if he is willing, he will let them lead him by the hand and dress him into his salvation and manner of death. But if he isn’t, he will turn back to his oldness and watch, with ever-growing frustration, himself recede into a past he fatally pretends is in front and spurn his youngness in a future he pretends is long behind.
Hardness and oldness and meanness, which are all the same, come, not from age, but from disobedience to God. And—consider well! this mystery of the “sternness and kindness of God”—because of the disobedience of the old and hard and mean, God reveals and gives Himself to the young and soft and new. And because of God’s mercy to His disobedient young, the disobedient old become envious of Salvation, which maybe, just maybe, collapses their heart into His mercy anew.
God has given us something: a gift. To fail to give at all the gift we received is worse than to give it badly; for it is to never have have received it firstly.
(1 Corinthians 4:2)
In God’s manner of gifts and giving, as in man’s, albeit lowlier, manner (the giving of gifts being “on earth, as it is in heaven"), if we are given His gift and then be not the gift, we are without the gift and as if we never received it.
This goes for the gifts of love, joy, peace, righteousness, faith, compassion, resurrection, nobleness, truth, life, and, verily, the God of All Gifts Himself.
To be righteous is to hunger for righteousness .
Where the hunger is itself a joy.
Where the hunger is itself a fulfillment and a filling.
If there be no hunger pangs for righteousness; there be no righteousness.
No taste of first love.
It is not yours because you have it, it is yours because it was given to you.
1 Corinthians 6,7
It baffles me how someone who calls themselves a Christian--No! Too harsh! Too harsh! I am that Christian! Was that man!
It baffles me how I who called myself a Christian could have actually read St. Paul's letter to the church in Rome and ever come away with the idea I didn't have to do anything to receive Christ? which is to receive His life and His righteousness? that Paul somehow claimed--after his lengthy and powerful explanation of what singularity happened in the Cosmos, in History, and within his very Self called Christ Crucified which transformed each from what was to what is and what will be--yes, even after all that, that Paul somehow ultimately claimed that to be righteous--which IS life: life new, exciting, abundant and eternal, the Christ follower is under no obligation to actually follow his Christ, whom to encounter is to hear, 'Follow me!' and whom to know and love is to immediately follow, yea, even so, whom only by immediately following can ever be known?
“We have an obligation…” I am bound!
I am bound, not to do wrong (not “to the flesh”)—but to annihilate doing wrong (“to put to death the misdeeds of the flesh”)!
I am bound to do right if I am to live.
Jesus overcame the world so that you could overcome yourself.
The thing that God imagines, that thing exists.