Monday, December 30, 2013

God Was a Homeless Refugee

There fared a mother driven forth, Out of an inn to roam;
In the place where she was homeless, All men are at home.
The crazy stable close at hand, With shaking timber and shifting sand,
Grew a stronger thing to abide and stand, Than the square stones of Rome.

For men are homesick in their homes, And strangers under the sun,
And they lay on their heads in a foreign land, Whenever the day is done.
Here we have battle and blazing eyes, And chance and honor and high surprise,
But our homes are under miraculous skies, Where the Yule tale was begun.

A Child in a foul stable, Where the beasts feed and foam;
Only where He was homeless, Are you and I at home;
We have hands that fashion and heads that know, But our hearts we lost - how long ago!
In a place no chart nor ship can show, Under the sky's dome.

This world is wild as an old wives' tale, And strange the plain things are,
The earth is enough and the air is enough, For our wonder and our war;
But our rest is as far as the fire-drake swings, And our peace is put in impossible things
Where clashed and thundered unthinkable wings, Round an incredible star.

To an open house in the evening, Home shall men come,
To an older place than Eden, And a taller town than Rome.
To the end of the way of the wandering star, To the things that cannot be and that are,
To the place where God was homeless, And all men are at home.

GK Chesterton, The House of Christmas

Reflection – OK, I’m on a little bit of a GKC bender right now. It does seem to me, though, that Christmas drew something out of the big man that was most beautiful. His poetic muse in particular was stirred by the paradoxes and astonishing contradictions of the feast—poverty and richness, littleness and immensity, power and weakness, all meeting and combining in completely new ways in the stable at Bethlehem.

Here we have the realities of home and homelessness, and the fact—the solid, historical fact—that at least at the very event of his birth, God chose to enter the human experience of homelessness, as in the flight to Egypt he chose to enter the human experience of being a refugee.

This has been a matter of some controversy in the Catholic blogosphere this year, due perhaps to an over-politicization by some of the fact of God’s homelessness. It is never a good thing, on any end of the political spectrum, to take the sacred realities of our faith and turn them to serve some political agenda or other. One might even call it blasphemy to do so. In American terms, for example, God did not become a man so that either the Republicans or the Democrats could better turn out their base for the 2014 mid-terms, you know.

But that’s not what this is about, at all. The deeper reality is that every human being is homeless, in a certain sense. There is a dislocation, a displacement, a refugee status that applies to the whole human race. I have written about this at length. Even as I sit here gazing out the window at my beloved Combermere woods, I can feel it—not quite where I am meant to be, not quite home.

And God, in entering into that dislocation and displacement, establishes a home for humanity that is more solid and enduring than the mighty city of Rome, than the intellectual brilliance of Athens, the wealth and sophistication of New York, the culture of Paris, than any other effort of human beings to establish a lasting residence, a fixed address on earth.

The truth is, we have no fixed address. We are all of us drifters, vagabonds, bums. And the reason we are such is that we have lost our hearts in a million fugitive illusory things, and our heads are dedicated to chasing shadows and forgeries and pretences of the true, the good, the beautiful. We left home to look for something better and ended up washed up, flat broke and living rough on the streets—all of us, every one, no exceptions. It’s called sin, folks, and no one is exempt.

And so we have this little baby and this little mama and this little man Joseph, and the sheep, the cattle, the stable walls—all very provisional and fragile and temporary… and the most lasting home we have on this earth, the most solid and stable and deeply founded place to lay our heads until we go to our true home through that gateway called Death.

We are home where God is homeless, we are rich where God is poorest, we are strong where God is weakest. The great paradox of Christianity, and that is why we rejoice and are glad that God was a homeless refugee born in peril and want, to deliver us from peril and want. Merry Christmas, still, and don’t forget to ‘call home’ today.

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