12/24/14 What Do We Look For?

This is the very perfection of a man, to find out his own imperfections.
St. Augustine

Ever try wading through Augustine’s City of God? His Confessions? I have and still do. Augustine used more words than they made words. He likely invented several. That’s OK…I do it all the time, too.

This Christmas Eve is a time of reflection for Christians the world over. We celebrate Jesus’ birth, which is an important observation for a Christian, but not nearly so important as Easter. If you are Christian, you know why. If you are not, you can celebrate the Winter Solstice and the Vernal Equinox, or celebrate for whatever reason you’d like. I will not apologize, nor downplay the importance of these holidays for me; not for any reason.

Our goal as Christians is not to make sure that others observe whatever it is that we think is important. Our goal is to investigate ourselves and to see where we might make our own improvements. What is God saying to me about me? It is easier to hear what He may be saying about others than to hear what He is saying to me about me. Sometimes the voice that speaks of others comes out of the whirlwind; the voice that chastises me comes in that still small moment. I must be silent to hear it.

The scriptures say that the Lord loves those He chastens. Time spent discovering my own imperfections is time spent not be chastened. We should all develop the self-discipline that leads to self-government, since everything difficult in the scriptures is not about someone else…most of it is about me, if I will let it be.

Augustine had his own issues he dealt with. As a young man, he said, “Lord, give me chastity, but not yet.” We enjoy our personal vices, the desires of our carnal nature, which are not limited to sex, but include gluttony, avarice, envy, pride, and lust for anything our eyes can behold. Gratification of physical desires overrides prudence. Things carnal blot out things spiritual. There is temporary satisfaction in the one, and an eternal satisfaction in the other.

Perhaps the worst case is the one who is proud of his personal spirituality, as opposed to other, more common people. We rise above them like bullet-hatted Cardinals with staffs and rings made for kissing. This is not just a pole at Roman Catholic traditions; it is a poke at the trappings of religion that men have created for themselves whereby we separate out one class of spiritual man from another. Perhaps the most spiritual of them all is the unnamed, unnoticed, invisible man who simply prays in thankfulness over his meal he takes in solitude with no one even around to notice.

Great things can come from lowly places. Great things came from stables, from places uninhabitable by people who could not accept such a place as their own habitation. Sometimes, it is better to be thankful for what we have than to grieve for what we lack.

Mary and Joseph lacked a good, clean motel room. The innkeeper, often criticized, was simply overbooked, yet he made a provision for the pregnant mother. I think he has taken a bad rap for this. I think he did the best he could for someone who needed what he had left to offer.

Jesus could have rode a white, gaited stallion on that Palm Sunday, riding high above the people, looking down on them from the power of His perch, but He chose a donkey. I doubt I’d ever choose a donkey. I expect I’d rather walk than ride on a donkey through an admiring crowd. It is a hard thing to humble oneself. It is a hard thing to be obedient when the obedience requires us to do things we’d rather not do, especially if they are self-effacing.

I have a mean streak of intolerance for incompetence, which sometimes reveals itself as arrogance. If I am arrogant, I later feel mean and low-down. If I reject my own arrogance for patience and tolerance, I later feel smug and righteous. Neither of these things is good. There is always room for improvement. There is a never-ending battle to discover our own imperfections, which includes and making allowances for the imperfections of others. It is easier for us when we see the value of others that the Lord sees. What is their value to Him?

You already know the answer to that.

My Christmas wish for myself? Lord, give me wisdom…a double portion.

I wish wisdom for you, too. It is the perfect garment in which to wrap oneself.

©2014 Mississippi Chris Sharp

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