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Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Merciful Let-Down of Christmas

©2009, Randall A. Beeler

At the end of the Book of Job, Job keeps silence.

And for good reason—God appears.

Then Job answered the Lord, and said: 2 I know that you can do all things, and no thought is hid from you. 3 Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge? Therefore I have spoken unwisely, and things that above measure exceeded my knowledge … 5 With the hearing of the ear, I have heard you, but now my eye sees you. 6 Therefore I reprehend myself, and do penance in dust and ashes. (Job 42, DRE)
Throughout Job's trials, in the face of the self-justifying counsel of his friends, Job proclaims that, only when God shows Himself, will anyone be justified:
25 For I know that my Redeemer lives, and in the last day I shall rise out of the earth. 26 And I shall be clothed again with my skin, and in my flesh I shall see my God. 27 Whom I myself shall see, and my eyes shall behold, and not another: this my hope is laid up in my bosom. 28 Why then do you say now: Let us persecute him, and let us find occasion of word against him? 29 Flee then from the face of the sword, for the sword is the revenger of iniquities: and know that there is a judgment. (Job 19, DRE)
The Christmas Eve silence that enfolds us in the snow-shrouded dells of our souls is Job's silence. We have called upon God to justify us.

And He comes.

But our attempts at self-justification deafen us to God's justice. We think we want the Peace that passeth all understanding, but Jesus warns us that He comes "not to send peace, but the sword" (Matt 10:34, DRE). We hurry about during Advent, preparing and spending and saving and meeting and greeting to make everything just right for that Christmas Day moment of peace … that always seems to elude us.

Then comes the let-down. We are spent and wonder why we lack the "Christmas spirit." Our old hurts and grievances spring up and, like Job bathed in Satan's outpoured bowls of grief, we are riddled with the sores of our existence, gasping, and wondering why God allows this sword.

Mercy.

Underneath the palace of Herod is the cavern stable where Jesus is born. Under the counting eyes of Caesar, the Father counts us worthy enough, amid the dung of the stable, for His Son to take "the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men, and in habit found as a man" (Phil 2:7b, DRE).

Like Job, we think we can truly see and proclaim justice. Oh, yes, we have been made to thirst for justice, but when justice comes, we must be hushed to silence in order to see Divine Mercy.

Christmas is a let-down: God lets Himself down into our Mangers, amidst our ox-ishness, ass-ishness, and mis-shepherded ways. Are we surprised, then, that we feel this let down?

We must be so let down … in order to lay down our defenses.

And it came to pass when the king sat in his house, and the Lord had given him rest on every side from all his enemies, 2 he said to Nathan the prophet: Do you see that I dwell in a house of cedar, and the ark of God is lodged within skins? … 4 But it came to pass that night, that the word of the Lord came to Nathan, saying: 5 Go, and say to my servant David: Thus says the Lord: Shall you build me a house to dwell in? the Lord will make you a house … 12 I will raise up your seed after you, which shall proceed out of the bowels, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He shall build a house to my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom fore ever.(2Sam 7, DRE)
The Lord does build the house—a stable—deep enough in the countryside that only the shepherds can listen for that coming.

So we come this Christmas …

… stilled by a silence that we did not catch the still small voice of …

… mercifully let down by our own noisy efforts to justify ourselves and our idea of Christmas, God, the world, and ourselves …

… let down by God's letting down of Himself, in the midst of our attempts to lift ourselves up.

No, no, He says. Kneel down. I will build the house, out of your clay and straw. You cannot lift yourself up to Me. I give you Myself. I have always given Myself to you. Listen. You can hear My heart beat.

Our God has His own heartbeat.

He is the Cornerstone we would-be builders rejected.

Our protests have been so loud, we have not heard Him. But it is Christmas. Now we see Him.
Let all mortal flesh keep silence,
and with fear and trembling stand;
ponder nothing earthly minded,
for with blessing in his hand
Christ our God to earth descendeth,
our full homage to demand.

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