Monday, December 22, 2008

The Payoff

Temperamentally, I can look at life – particularly Christian discipleship – with a grim eye. I tend to relish themes like counting the cost, and not looking back once you've put your hand to the plow, and the sacrifices necessary to follow Christ. Highlighted in my Bible are verses pertaining to trials and difficulties and struggles. The past two posts on winnowing and smelting are typical of how I look at the Christian life and attendant struggles.

This outlook may be a helpful counterweight to a culture that focuses more on the comfort and benefits of the Gospel that the associated cost – when it pays attention to the Gospel at all. However, even useful counterweights can introduce imbalance if they are not kept in check.

That's why it's helpful for people like me to step back occasionally and remember that the struggle and trial and purification has a goal, and that goal is good. The winnowing ends, and you have good grain. The ore is finally smelted, and you have the pure metal. The trial brings the victory and the cost brings a payoff.

We are now into the Fourth Week of Advent. Four candles are burning in the wreath, and in days it will be Christmas, the Feast of the Incarnation, the celebration so festive that the Church taught a whole culture how to celebrate it. Every year the Feast comes around as a reminder that yes, we do have a Redeemer. The road to redemption may be long and trying and difficult, but there is a road where there was none before, and that road has an end.

Perhaps symbolically, this Christmas Ellen and I are away from home, at our children's homes, where all of us far-scattered ones are regathered. During the final countdown days of Advent we will be together. There will be conversations and good coffee and books to read to little ones and plenty of rest and fun and feasting. We will celebrate each other, and our Redeemer, and when the joyous morning comes we will exchange gifts as an expression of our love and esteem for each other, in commemoration of the Great Gift Who was given as the ultimate expression of love. Some days later, we will separate again (though we are never far out of touch), for we are still in this life.

But the day will come soon (very soon, in the grand timescale of things) when we won't have to separate any more. The Advent that is this life will come to an end. The purple will be put away, for the penance will be finished, and the white will come out forever. The True Feast will begin, and the full meaning of all the best Christmas mornings and weddings and reunions and family feasts will be realized. We will then taste the fullness of what all those joyous occasions only gave us the scent of.

So enjoy this Christmas, even in the midst of whatever trials you are enduring. May God bless you as you celebrate the Incarnation, the coming of hope beyond hope, and the opening of the road that had been utterly closed to us.

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