An Advent Paradox: Where God is Homeless, We’re at Home

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There fared a mother driven forth
Out of an inn to roam;
In the place where she was homeless
All men are at home.

A Child in a foul stable,
Where the beasts feed and foam,
Only where He was homeless
Are you and I at home;

To an open house in the evening
Home shall men come,
To the end of the way of the wandering star,
To the things that cannot be and that are,
To the place where God was homeless
And all men are at home.
~G.K. Chesterton from “The House of Christmas” (1915)

 

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If I recall correctly, the first catalog with holiday theme items arrived in our mailbox in late July. The “BEST CHRISTMAS ISSUE EVER!” magazines hit the grocery store check-out racks in September. Then, with the chill in the air in October and Halloween just past, the stores put out the Santa decorations and red and white candy, instead of the orange and black candy of the previous 6 weeks. We have been inundated with commercial “Christmas” for months now and I don’t know about you, but I’m exhausted, beaten to a “best ever holiday” pulp.

All of this has little to do with the original gift given that first Christmas night, lying helpless and homeless in a barn feed trough. I know a fair amount about feed troughs, having daily encounters with them in our barn, and there is no fanfare there and no grandiosity. Just basic sustenance– every day needs fulfilled in the most simple and plain way. Our wooden troughs are so old, they have been filled with fodder thousands of times over the decades. The wood has been worn smooth and shiny from years of being sanded by cows’ rough tongues, and over the last two decades, our horses’ smoother tongues, as they lick up every last morsel, extracting every bit of flavor and nourishment from what has been offered there. No matter how tired, how hungry, there is comfort offered at those troughs – it is home for them. The horses know it, anticipate it, depend on it, thrive because of it.

The shepherds in the hills that night were starving and homeless too. They had so little, yet became the first invited to the feast at the trough. They must have been overwhelmed, having never known such plenty before. Overcome with the immensity of what was laid before them and the invitation to “home”, they certainly could not contain themselves, and told everyone they could about what they had seen.

His mother listened to the excitement of the visiting shepherds and that she “treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart”.

Whenever I’m getting caught up in the frenetic overblown commercialism of modern Christmas, I go out to the barn and look at our rough hewn feed troughs and think about what courage it took to entrust an infant to such a bed. She knew in her heart, indeed she had been told, that her son was to feed the hungry souls of human kind and He became fodder Himself.

Now I too am at the trough, starving, sometimes stamping in impatience, often anxious and weary, at times homeless, hopeless and helpless. He was placed there for good reason: He offers us a home within his homelessness, a treasure to be shared plain and simple, and nurture without end.

Who needs Christmas cookies, fancy toys and the latest fads to fill the empty spot deep inside?

Instead, you are invited home to eat your fill – just look to the manger.

 

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O magnum mysterium
et admirabile sacramentum,
ut animalia viderent Dominum natum,
jacentem in præsepio.

Beata virgo, cujus viscera meruerunt
portare Dominum Christum, Alleluia!

Translation:

O great mystery
and wondrous sacrament,
that animals should see the newborn Lord
lying in their manger.

Blessed is the Virgin whose womb was worthy
to bear the Lord Jesus Christ. Alleluia!

An Unraveling Story

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The fence was down. 
 
Led by their bellwether bellies, the sheep
had toddled astray. The neighbor farmer’s woods
or coyotes might have got them, or the far road.
 
I remember the night, the moon-colored grass
we waded through to look for them, the oaks
tangled and dark, like starting a story midway.
 
We gazed over seed heads to the barn
toppled in the homestead orchard. Then we saw
the weather of white wool, a cloud in the blue
 
moving without sound as if charmed
by the moon beholding them out of bounds.
Time has not tightened the wire or righted the barn.
 
The unpruned orchard rots in its meadow
and the story unravels, the sunlight creeping back
like a song with nobody left to hear it.
~David Mason from “Mending Time” in The Sound: New and Selected Poems

 

 

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How often do we, like sheep, wander astray – out of the broken down barn, or through the fallen fence, into the orchards of rotting delights?

And Someone, always Someone, comes looking for us, lost and always hungering and endangered.

We need our Shepherd and we know His voice.  May we be ready to be led home.

 

 

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Preparing Through Parable: For I Was Hungry and Thirsty

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31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”
Matthew 25: 31-46

 

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The final parable of Jesus prepares us to enter Holy Week, as we once again become the crowd shouting the mixed messages of Palm Sunday.

Jesus arrives to Hosannas as a King with glory, laud and honor, not at all treated as the “least of these” on that Sabbath.

Yet within days he was rejected, betrayed, sold for silver, convicted and punished as a common criminal with the assent of those who had earlier welcomed him with such warmth.

So who are we to become on this day?
Do we claim adoration but  in reality practice rejection?
Do we give him a kiss that ultimately is his betrayal?
Do we protest when he washes our dirty feet but argue about who among us is greatest?
Do we prepare a glorious meal but then offer up only vinegar?
Do we throw our cloaks down at his feet, dress him in an elegant robe but later strip him naked to cast lots for the clothing off his back?
Do we rescue him from his unjust captivity or do we turn the other way when he is flogged, beaten and crucified?

Who are we – his people, his family, his church – during this week to come?

We are clearly told: we feed the hungry, offer drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, visit the lonely and care for the sick.  We are his hands, his feet, his heart, his spirit on earth.

Let us never forget.

 

May my eyes see, my ears hear, my heart understand. He prepares me with parable.

 

 

 

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Turn Aside and Look: All of These Things

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Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
John 20:29

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Why worry about the loaves and fishes?
If you say the right words, the wine expands.
If you say them with love
and the felt ferocity of that love
and the felt necessity of that love,
the fish explode into many.
Imagine him, speaking,
and don’t worry about what is reality,
or what is plain, or what is mysterious.
If you were there, it was all those things.
If you can imagine it, it is all those things.
Eat, drink, be happy.
Accept the miracle.
Accept, too, each spoken word
spoken with love.
Mary Oliver  – “Logos”

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Many reject him because they weren’t there-
how can they know
what was real without seeing and hearing him
with their own eyes and ears.

We read his words
and think about
how his voice sounded
in a crowd
of 5000 people so hungry,
and how his eyes teared
as he was betrayed
and rejected
and nailed

We weren’t in the garden
that day when he was mistaken
for the gardener
nor were we on the road to Emmaus
walking beside a stranger whose words
made our hearts burn within us
but we can imagine hearing our name spoken
and knowing it is him
or watching him break the bread
and recognizing his body.

We weren’t there
but we didn’t have to be.

If we can imagine what His Logos tells us,
it is plain and real,
a mystery of the heart

all of these things
all of these things
all these things
and so much more

Lenten Grace — A Table in the Wilderness

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…faith finds food in famine, and a table in the wilderness.
In the greatest danger, faith says, “I have a great God.”
When outward strength is broken, faith rests on the promises.
In the midst of sorrow, faith draws the sting out of every trouble,
and takes out the bitterness from every affliction.
~Richard Cecil

The table set for us in the wilderness may not be what we hope for nor expect. Only faith can sustain us when the cup is bitter and the meal disheartening. We may choose starvation and thirst rather than eat and drink of trouble and sacrifice.

Even Jesus asked that the cup be taken from Him. Yet He drank from it and handed it over to us.

Even as Jesus walked to Golgotha, breaking under the burden and about to be shattered, He is prepared to hand His body over to us.

He has eaten at this same table so we are no longer alone in the bitter wilderness.

And so we, sharing our hunger, our thirst, our fear, our sorrow and our pain, can say, “We have a great God.”

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Advent Sings: Down to Up

photo by Josh Scholten
photo by Josh Scholten

The Lord brings death and makes alive;
    he brings down to the grave and raises up.
1 Samuel 2: 6 from the Song of Hannah

Hannah’s prayer describes the Lord in all His paradox of reversals: the strong are broken and those who stumble strengthened, the satisfied end up working for food and the hungry become filled, the barren woman bears children while the mother of many pines away, the poor and needy are lifted up to sit with princes.

He humbles and exalts–we have read the stories of how the Lord uses such reversals to instruct His people.

Yet nothing Hannah says is as radical and unprecedented as being brought down to the grave and then raised up, the Lord causing death and making alive.   This makes no sense.  Once in the grave, there is no escape.  Death cannot be reversed like the weak becoming strong, the hungry filled, the barren fertile, the poor enriched.

Hannah sings that this will indeed happen, just as the other reversals happened.  It would take centuries, but her prayer is fulfilled in the child born to Mary, who lives and dies and lives again in the greatest reversal of all.

There can be no greater mystery than a God who chooses to walk the earth as a man among the poor, the needy, the helpless, the sick, the blind, the lame, the wicked, the barren, the hungry, the weak.  There can be no greater reversal than God Himself dying–put away down into the grave– and then rising up, glorious, in the ultimate defeat of darkness and death.

Hannah already knew this as a barren woman made full through the blessing of the Lord, choosing to empty herself by giving her son back to God.
Mary knew this as a virgin overshadowed by the Holy Spirit, choosing to empty herself by bearing, raising and giving her Son back to the Father.

We know this too.   We are the weak, the hungry, the poor, the dying filled completely through the love and sacrifice of the Triune God, and so give ourselves up to Him.

From down to up.  It can be done.  And He has done it.