Home for the Holidays

“First Snow,” © Lynn Abbott

© 2016 Lynn Abbott

Home.  It’s a recurring theme during the holiday season.

Going Home.

Coming Home.

Finding Home.

No matter our life experience, we long for a place of belonging and safety.  We  dream of space we can truly call home.

And something about the season especially stirs that desire in us…

We could blame many of our Christmas carols.  Without a doubt, “home” takes center-stage in contemporary holiday lyrics.

Uh, huh. You know it’s difficult to escape the soft nostalgic orchestration of “I’ll be Home for Christmas” during the Christmas season.

Of course, Norman Rockwell-inspired, Christmas cards also evoke thoughts of home.

And who can forget Charles Dickens unforgettable tale about the importance of  giving, faith and family in his novella, “A Christmas Carol”?

But perhaps, C.S. Lewis’ classic, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe best conveys both the  yearning and despondency that many feel during the holidays.

After all, although we dream of a beautiful white Christmas and those chestnuts on an open fire presumably to be shared with loving family and friends, reality often falls short of expectation.

Indeed, in this world, you and I experience conflict, heartbreak, illness, and loss.

We grieve for a sons or daughters who have wandered into dangerous waters;  for a spouse that has betrayed you or a loved one or even for loved ones that have died. Financial failure threatens.  Perhaps, health concerns overshadow the season for you.

Whatever the case, each has a grief to bear.  And this Christmas, you may feel life is especially tenuous.  You may even wonder if Christmas blessings will ever come.

Yes, the hope of the idyllic “home” eludes us.

I think that in light of all of this, you and I keenly sympathize with Mr. Tumnus who, in Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, sorrowfully tells Lucy that the White Witch is she who has made Narnia “always winter and never Christmas.”

But such a thought horrifies most of Lewis’ readers. After all, what is winter without Christmas? What is there to break up the cold days? What is there to look forward to?

Quite honestly, I cannot imagine a world where it is “always winter and never Christmas.”

That, to my way of thinking, would be a world not only fraught with pain, sorrow and grief but it would also be a place without hope…and you and I would find ourselves trapped with no way out; destined for a life void of love, joy or peace.

For me, a life punctuated by winter’s freeze with nary a possibility of a “Merry Christmas” homecoming sounds unendurable.

Heartbreaking, in fact.

Yet, I believe that through Mr. Tumnus, C.S. Lewis fully intended that you and I should consider the importance of Christmas not only to Narnia but to our everyday lives.

In a frozen Narnia, Lewis perfectly painted the weariness and heartbreak that we all inevitably encounter. Or as Shakespeare once wrote, “Now is the winter of our discontent…”

We long for better.  Yet, this world falls short.

Without a doubt, in this world, pain–physical, emotional and spiritual– reigns. Injustice, fear, and evil run amok.

You and I face an avalanche of disappointed hope. Solomon, in fact, wrote in Proverbs 12:12, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick.”

Never has truer word been spoken.

Thankfully, ‘deferred’ is the operative word. Otherwise, this would be a pretty depressing proverb.

I’m glad Solomon didn’t stop with the first part of the verse. Rather, the door cracks open and a little light breaks through.

The whole of his proverb reads, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, But desire fulfilled is a tree of life.”

Pain, suffering and disappointment are only temporary. They are hope deferred.

What it really comes down to is this: Abba’s path to paradise is radically different from the road we expect.

True, He has promised His people welfare, a future and hope.  But the road home to  blessing doesn’t run according to human wisdom.

In fact, Christmas reminds me that God’s ways frequently don’t make human sense.

In early A.D., expectations for an earthly ruler ran high in Israel. I imagine that many bedtime prayers included requests for the Messiah to crush the Roman empire. God’s people understandably looked for their Messianic king.

Their Old Testament scripture readings focused on Messiah as conquering king, but also as the Redeemer of the oppressed.  Isaiah 61 promised One who would rescue the poor, heal the brokenhearted, release captives and prisoners and comfort the grief-stricken.  In addition, the land would be restored and cities rebuilt.

Isaiah proclaimed this future time as the “year of the Lord’s favor,” and it evidently would outshine the Jewish year of Jubilee.   And that said a lot.

For the nation of Israel,  the year of Jubilee promised restoration.  At the 50 year mark, God ordained that property ownership reverted to those who had been forced to sell in order to cover food and debt. And those who had sold themselves as bond-servants  were also set free.  They returned home.

Truly, the year of Jubilee brought hope for the down and out. Unfortunately, Jubilee came but once every 50 years.  That anticipated release and home-going could prove a long wait for those in bondage.

Yet, Grace offered another hope.  In fact, the book of Leviticus had outlined a means by which an enslaved or indentured Israeli might be bought back and granted freedom by a kinsman before the Jubilee.

God actually established an “object lesson” for His people through the Law of the Kinsman-Redeemer (Leviticus 24).  Yes, One would come who would buy back or “redeem” God’s people.

Messiah would not only eventually establish perfect home on earth for His people but  He would also give up the wealth and glory that was rightfully His (Philippians 2)  in order to buy His people back from bondage to sin and death.

Born in a Bethlehem stable, Jesus embraced His role as our Kinsman-Redeemer. Through His death,  burial and resurrection, He provided our safe passage “home.”

You might say that He offered Himself up as a substitute “bond-servant,”  and  thereby, set free all who had been taken captive by the cruel “White Witch.”

Unfortunately, the spiritual aspect of God’s plan was not initially understood by His people.  After an initial read of the prophecies, it’s easy to understand why.

Although prophecy addressed both spiritual and political blessing, the people’s circumstances predisposed them to look primarily for political redemption. Oppressed by the Roman Empire, God’s people clearly longed for the freedom that Messiah’s kingdom promised.

And the Jews were not alone in their expectations. When the Magi arrived in Israel, they told Herod that they also looked for the prophesied king of Israel.

Obviously, the reign of David’s heir was much-anticipated.

In this context, God’s plan is particularly shocking: a stable and a manger greeted Messiah. There were no kingly halls prepared nor were there any courtiers to wait upon the Christ’s every need.  Christ’s earthly home epitomized humanity’s humble condition.

He took the form of humanity; He embraced suffering kinship before victorious kingship in order to redeem you and me.

And so, the long-expected One mingled and walked with those who were socially unacceptable: tax collectors, lepers, the poor, Samaritans, and sinners.  Then, He suffered and died on a cross–death reserved by Rome for criminals.

These events shattered Hebrew expectations. Of course,  Isaiah had described the “suffering servant” (Isaiah 53). Yet, God’s people had understandably  favored Biblical passages that identified the conquering king (Isaiah 9:6).

Nevertheless, both paths are essential to Abba’s plan.

The crown of thorns precedes the crown of glory. Or as Lewis wrote allegorically, Aslan must die in place of Edmund, the traitor.  Our Kinsman-Redeemer must buy our freedom back.

Herein lies the amazing hope and grace of Christmas.

Sure, Friday’s crucifixion brought grief, fear, confusion and heartbreak. A cold wind blew.

Our circumstances looked bleak.  The cost of redemption extraordinarily high.

Hope deferred.

But Sunday was coming. And desire fulfilled would bring a tree of life to all those who believe.

With Aslan’s return, the snow began to melt. Hope dawned.

In fact, God’s initially incomprehensible plan enabled our long-term best. For this reason, while cold winter may shroud this world, Christmas always warms our hearts.

Christmas carries the promise that “momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison,” (2 Corinthians 4:17).

Yes, Christmas signals the coming of our Messiah, our Savior, as well as the promise of a forever home with Him.

But before He conquered, our Messiah suffered in order to rescue us from the clutches of sin and death. In winter, the seed died.

I’m thankful that the redemption story doesn’t end there.  Indeed, our Messiah overcame death, and while you and I yet experience residual snow, God’s gift makes room for hope. The old life melts away.

Thus, we can say with the apostle Paul, “For God, who said, ‘Light shall shine out of darkness,’ is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassing greatness of the power may be of God and not from ourselves; we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed…” (2 Corinthians 4:6-9)

On my own, I crumbled. Actually, life’s winter left my soul cold. Without Christ, it was always winter and never Christmas.

However, “…such confidence we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God,” (2 Corinthians 3: 4-5).

Christ delivered God’s gift of grace.  Our Kinsman-Redeemer paid our passage home.

Because of those deferred expectations long ago, you and I have been brought near to God. And no matter what grief, heartbreak, or pain this world brings, God incarnate has rescued us from a permanent winter.

By grace, we will one day share in Messiah’s ultimate victory over pain, suffering and death.

In the meantime, through Him, we are resilient. Although at times we experience an avalanche of suffering in this world, we will not be crushed, (2 Corinthians 4:8-9). Because of Him, we are “more than conquerors,” (Romans 8:37).

Such is our confidence.

Despite whatever else that may happen, Christmas is for always. We can depend on it because Christ has promised that He will never leave nor forsake us (Hebrews 13:5-6).

This world frequently dumps a bucket of snow over our hopes and dreams.  We certainly experience our share of pain, suffering, illness, heartbreak and disappointments.

But in their lyrics written for the movie of Lewis’ classic,   Switchfoot provides us with a musical reminder of Lewis’ thoughtful conclusion:   we are  created for a place we’ve never known.

In Christ, we find our true home.  In Him, we place our hope.

Our Kinsman-Redeemer prepares a place for us, (John 14:2-3).    He will bestow a “crown of beauty instead of ashes,” and a “garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair,” (Isaiah 61:3).

Despite the cold  and darkness that blankets the world around us, we join with Switchfoot to sing : “Belief over misery/I’ve seen the enemy/And I won’t go back/Back to how it was/And I got my heart set on what happens next/I got my eyes wide open; it’s not over yet./We are miracles and we’re not alone/This is home.”

Yes, when this world beats us down  or an avalanche of disappointment threatens, Christ extends His nail-scarred hand.

And as He pulls us from life’s cold drifts, He utters some of the most beautiful words ever heard: “My child…”

“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich,” ~2 Corinthians 8:9

“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves. It is the gift of God…” Ephesians 2:8