Wednesday, December 23, 2015

When the day of our homecoming puts and end to our exile. . .

A reading from Cyprian as we close in on Christmas. . .  (Treatise on Mortality: Cap 18:24, 26: CSEL 3, 308, 312-314).
How unreasonable it is to pray that God’s will be done, and then not promptly obey it when he calls us from this world!  Instead we struggle and resist [death] like self-willed slaves and are brought into the Lord’s presence with sorrow and lamentation, not freely consenting to our departure, but constrained by necessity.

And yet we expect to be rewarded with heavenly honors by him to whom we come against our will! Why then do we pray for the kingdom of heaven to come if this earthly bondage pleases us? What is the point of praying so often for its early arrival if we should rather serve the devil here, than reign with Christ?  The world hates Christians, so why give your love to it instead of following Christ, who loves you and has redeemed you?

John is most urgent in his epistle when he tells us not to love the world by yielding to sensual desires. Never give your love to the world, he warns, or to anything in it. A man cannot love the Father and love the world at the same time. All that the world offers is the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and earthly ambition. The world and its allurements will pass away, but the man who has done the will of God shall live forever.

Our part, my dear brothers, is to be single-minded, firm in faith, and steadfast in courage, ready for God’s will, whatever it may be.  Banish the fear of death and think of the eternal life that follows. That will show people that we really live our faith.

We ought never to forget, beloved, that we have renounced the world. We are living here now as aliens and only for a time. When the day of our homecoming puts an end to our exile, frees us from the bonds of the world, and restores us to paradise and to a kingdom, we should welcome it.

What man, stationed in a foreign land, would not want to return to his own country as soon as possible? Well, we look upon paradise as our country, and a great crowd of our loved ones awaits us there, a countless throng of parents, brothers and children longs for us to join them. Assured though they are of their own salvation, they are still concerned about ours. What joy both for them and for us to see one another and embrace! O the delight of that heavenly kingdom where there is no fear of death! O the supreme and endless bliss of everlasting life!

There is the glorious band of apostles, there, the exultant assembly of prophets, there, the innumerable host of martyrs, crowned for their glorious victory in combat and in death. There, in triumph, are the virgins who subdued their passions by the strength of continence. There the merciful are rewarded, those who fulfilled the demands of justice by providing for the poor. In obedience to the Lord’s command, they turned their earthly patrimony into heavenly treasure.

My dear brothers, let all our longing be to join them as soon as we may. May God see our desire, may Christ see this resolve that springs from faith, for he will give the rewards of his love more abundantly to those who have longed for him more fervently...

Christmas brings this ever more clearly into focus.  God has not come to baptize this world, whether its greatest joys and wonders or its worst moments of pain and sorrow.  No, the Lord has come to deliver to us a kingdom that does not fade or pass away, in which sin is no longer part of the vocabulary, and where death is forgotten from our memories forever.  He has come to heal the breech of the living and the dead and unite us in the wonders that mind cannot imagine.  So great is that which He has prepared for those who love Him.

At the same time that Christmas brings this into focus, we find ourselves severely tested and tried by the temptations of the world -- happiness which is purchased like a commodity, satisfaction and peace with the world and its limitations of sin and death (sort of the love the one you are with mentality), and contentment with the moment over anticipation of eternity.

Now but days before we renew our celebration of our Lord's nativity, we pray the Lord to make us uncomfortable enough with life (both its joys and sorrows) so that we may long for and desire what He has come to deliver (heaven and its glory).  Honestly, one of the worst of worldly ideas is a truce with death that presumes that if death can be postponed long enough or earthly joys great enough, it is not so bad to die.  As we long for those who will not be present with us in the pews at church or around the table at home or opening their gifts with us in wonderful clamor of gifts given and received, let us renew our hope in the promise of the resurrection of the dead and the life everlasting which God has prepared for all who have loved our Lord's appearing.  And let us live so that our lives reveal this hope (both in the explicit words that we speak and the character of our values and actions every day).

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Significant also are the words of our Lord, uttered the day before His suffering and death, John 14:28, “You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I will come to you.’ If you loved me, you would have rejoiced, because I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I.” I think it also gives meaning to our Lord’s weeping before He raised Lazarus. It is the opposite of rejoicing because He is going to the Father.
Peace and Joy on the Feast of the Nativity.
George A. Marquart