Safety – Pastor’s Reflection (November 22, 2016)
Kingdom, as a word, must evoke a variety of instinctive reactions. For me the word that comes to mind is safety. Kingship implies relationship, so that if I live in a kingdom I live in a place governed, pacified, and secured by somebody. If I am a subject of the King, I rest under his protection. Of course someone else might look at this same set of circumstances and find it a recipe for oppression. If I live in a kingdom, am I safe or am I stymied? Do I feel safe in someone else’s kingdom, or is the only safe place my own? These musings boil down to; where am I safe, and with whom?
A great question to ponder now that the year has brought us to the vestibule of “the holidays!” The days from Thanksgiving to the Epiphany present Icon after Icon of domestic safety;
The laden Thanksgiving table surrounded by family and friends
Jolly shopping at the Mall
Pre-Christmas cheer with your buddies at the office
The perennial loveliness of your creche and Christmas tree just out of their boxes
and embracing you like old friends
Christmas morning with the kids
Your easy chair and chili in front of the games on New Year’s Day.
For many of us, allowing for individual variants, the holidays mean having this set of familiar experiences, and taken together they amount to the homecoming of the year. During these days I think we make a pilgrimage to the heart of ourselves, and as the darkness establishes its winter kingdom, we look for our kingdom of safety, which might be a physical or spiritual place. As the song says, “I’ll be home for Christmas if only in my dreams.” The homecoming plays a crucial role in the annual cycle because as long as I know home is intact I can be elsewhere and feel grounded.
But what if home is not intact? Perhaps the place is gone, or the people are gone, or the memories make it too painful to go there in spirit. Here is the pain of not being able to tap into my sources. Or perhaps home finds itself in jeopardy from outside sources.
By the time you read this, we will have but a week of distance from the Paris attacks. This latest round of terror brought particular pain because it brought violence into the kinds of places that city dwellers view as extensions of home, as if the terrorists are determined that even our home life be unshadowed by their threat. Thanks to this ingenious evil, a whole city will not be ablate go home for Christmas. How will any of us settle down for that long winter’s nap when barabarous people have demonstrated to us that the kingdom of our urban civilization is unguarded and maybe unguardable?
How do we respond to this violation? Do we put metal detectors at the doors of our restaurants and cinemas? Do we encircle our homes with barbed wire, or its technological equivalent, and celebrate the holidays in a kingdom under siege? On the other hand, we could defy the terrorists and carry on as usual.
We also might look for something deeper than defensiveness or bravado. Today’s Feast reminds us in whose Kingdom we of faith truly live. Christ has placed us inside a realm of safety, but He has also placed a realm of safety within us. In the mystery of the Kingdom Christ proposes the coherence of His law (the Sermon On The Mount), the effectiveness of His support (the sacraments), and the security of His friendship (the indwelling of the Holy Spirit).
The effect of these riches confided to us by our King is that we reign as He does, from the throne of the Cross. Where Christ’s tangible kingdom comes to complete destruction His own love of God and neighbor becomes tangible not only as an attitude, but as a realm within which He lives and can summon others to live. This realm will outlast all of those fueled by the drive to dominate. If we lay claim to this stance of charity, living “no longer for ourselves, but for Him who died and rose again for us,” then we will not only be followers of Christ but dwellers in Christ.
With this security that cannot be taken away, it becomes possible for us to mourn the victims of terror, and to name the evil that begets it. At the same time, we can celebrate the domestic rites of this season not just to be brazen, but to witness to the faith, hope, and love that are active within us. Where these exist, I am always at home, because there is never a time when I am away from the presence of God. Like Christ crucified we are able to be completely vulnerable and absolutely invulnerable, for the decision to exercise charity is always more powerful than the decision not to.
Even with the fragility of our age fully exposed there is reason for thanks and security for believing, and a real kingdom one can rest in.