O King of the nations…

O King of the nations and the fulfillment of their longing,
you are the Cornerstone and you make all one;
you formed us from primeval clay:

o-jpg

Come, and save us!
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christmas“What do you want for Christmas?”

That’s the question of the hour isn’t it? Soon it will be Christmas morning and all those people in your life who have posed this urgent seasonal question will have done their loving best to get you just exactly what it was that you told them that you wanted.  I once heard an “expert” say that if you really want to get somebody the perfect gift for Christmas, then it’s really a very simple matter — just get them what they told you they wanted!  One’s longings are a pretty reliable guide to their happiness.

It was C.S. Lewis who first introduced me to the idea that our deepest “longings” as human beings are actually a God given mechanism by which He tethers us to Himself. He called this idea “Sehnsucht,” a German word that means “longing” or “desire.” He described it as “that unnamable something, the desire for which pierces us like a rapier at the smell of a bonfire — the sound of wild ducks flying overhead, the title of The Well at the World’s End, the opening lines of Kubla Khan, the morning cobwebs in late summer, or the noise of falling waves” (https://blog.logos.com/2015/08/c-s-lewis-ingenious-apologetic-of-longing/). Perhaps C.S. Lewis’ most memorable statement about “Sehnsucht” was this one –

 csThere have been times when I think we do not desire heaven; but more often I find myself wondering whether, in our heart of hearts, we have ever desired anything else. You may have noticed that the books you really love are bound together by a secret thread. You know very well what is the common quality that makes you love them, though you cannot put it into words… Again, you have stood before some landscape, which seems to embody what you have been looking for all of your life… Are not all life-long friendships born at the moment when at last you meet another human being who has some inkling of that which you were born desiring, and which, beneath the flux of other desires and in all momentary silences between the louder passions, night and day, year by year, from childhood to old age, you are looking for, watching for, listening for? (The Problem of Pain)

Peter Kreeft, the Roman Catholic Philosopher who teaches at Boston College, is the ablest interpreter of this argument from longing that I’ve come across today.   In his 1980 book Heaven: The Heart’s Deepest Longing (Ignatius), Peter Kreeft said that our hearts  are “haunted” by an innate awareness of God, and that the desires of our hearts are really just  expressions of our desperate need for God.

carWe think that if we could just get this, or achieve that, that then we’d be truly happy: a spouse, a job, a car, a house, and then, it’s a different spouse, a better job, a newer car, a bigger house. This cycle of desire never ends.  There’s always more.  There’s always more “different.” There’s always more “newer.” There’s always more “bigger.”  And there’s always more “better.” And so St. Augustine prayed – Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.”

Spiritually, our reach as human beings will always far exceed our grasp, and that’s because what we are always reaching for is God, and what we grasp, no matter how good and valuable they might be in and of themselves, are always going to be less than God, and therefore they cannot finally or fully satisfy our deepest human longing. I believe that some of them can certainly be sacraments of what’s ultimate, outward and visible signs of the inward and inviable object of our longing, but finally even they must fade as we get lost in wonder, love and praise.

So, what do you want for Christmas? And however you answer that question, whatever it is that you say you want, behind and beneath that desire is something even more basic, and the petition and affirmation of the sixth “O” Antiphon prepares the eyes of our hearts to be able to see it –

aO King of the nations and the fulfillment of their longing,
you are the Cornerstone and you make all one;
you formed us from primeval clay: Come, and save us!

God has indeed made us for Himself forming us “from primeval clay,” and He has filled us with a longing for Himself which is experienced by us as a profound ache for unity – to be brought back into the harmony of the original shalom (what’s pictured for us in the Garden of Eden) in which everything and everyone fit together perfectly like the pieces of a beautiful puzzle under the gracious sovereignty of God’s reign.

So we say that what we want for Christmas is a brand new smart phone, but what we really want, what we deeply want is to be meaningfully connected with others. We say that what we want is that piece of jewelry, but what we really want, what we deeply want is to know that we are valued and loved.  We say that what we want is a big screen TV, but what really want, what we deeply want is just to be happy.  And we say that what we want for Christmas is that new piece of exercise equipment, but what we really want, what we deeply want is to have life, and to have it more abundantly.  Our longing for community, companionship, contentment and wholeness are all expressions of our longing for God, and Christmas is about when and where and how God actually went about fulfilling them.

cross

Come, Desire of nations, come, Fix in us Thy humble home;
Rise, the woman’s conqu’ring Seed, Bruise in us the serpent’s head.
Now display Thy saving power, Ruined nature now restore;
Now in mystic union join Thine to ours, and ours to Thine.
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“Hark the Herald Angels Sing”
Charles Wes­leyHymns and Sac­red Po­ems – 1739, alt

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