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This slightly different twist on Christmas and its meaning has its roots in what was basically a post-script to what had been a full and busy gathering beginning in the early afternoon. It had become an even larger repeat of our Thanksgiving, which had pleased Dad and resulted in his envisioning this gathering even before the night was finished in November. There had been a lively feel of family and perhaps some renewal that I believe touched him at this season in his days and he intended to build on it.
So, instead of having what had become the usual one large gathering alternating between holidays coupled with a smaller one, this would be a double-barreled affair. And it had come off much as envisioned.
Now the house had mostly cleared. The beginning of the day’s last NFL game had made its way onto the TV, the fireplace held most glowing coals, my youngest daughter and her family were the household’s only “outsiders” left and they only had to walk outside to the living quarters of their horse trailer to settle in for the night and in the dimly lit living room Dad and my son-in-law was quietly playing checkers while an abnormally quiet (for him) four year old watched as if keeping score.
Maybe it is natural to see two so closely related in the same frame of sight who are only a few months from being 90 years apart and think of the common blood they share. My mind moved back even another generation and felt the presence of a man who had loaded his best cowhorse on a train to interrupt a life he was building for himself to return to his home to deposit the horse and then volunteer for a war half a globe away and then later, as the oldest child stay on to help raise and educate his siblings, marry at what was then approaching middle age, bury two children who never quite came to term, and finally see a son born that he could name after his own father.
I suppose it takes a long time to know a man who rarely speaks of himself. It did for me. Or maybe it was just that I had to mature myself to grasp such things as well as see them in myself. But after a couple of decades, I came to believe that the man who was my grandfather often looked past the blackland prairies, timbered creeks, and long-rolling hills and saw low, rugged mountains, deserts, and horses that hadn’t smelled man until as two-year-olds. There are men who do what they want. There are men who do what they have to do. And there are those who do what they should do.
I pondered the common DNA of men, which seemed to send them in so many different directions. Brothers, sisters, cousins, as well as fathers and sons who can be so differently turned from each other yet share so much of both the past and the future. That four-year-old with his elbows on the card table shared a DNA with that older man and myself that had fought on at least two of the corners of Europe, crossed seas, had been among the first of their breed to camp on inland forests of a new continent and fought to establish two different republics on it before the older man’s grandparents were born.
As chaotic as this world can seem, it is one of an intricate, natural order. This might be why I often favor the Founders/Framers’ terminology of Nature and Nature’s God. There is a divine natural order masterfully designed and working with a precision that even the modern computer-minded have to wonder at. Reason and logic are so dominant in the operation of our known existence that the biblical creation story can easily be shown to be in the correct order, step by step, to meet the specs of known science.
Our own bodily appearances, personality traits, skills, and faults can be found in the tiniest dots on a DNA strain, all organized in a cellular structure consistent throughout all that we have proven to exist. That circular pattern of energy begins at least with the atoms of all that is around us and extends outward past moons, solar systems, and galaxies. When put into long-term effect, the natural, patterned forces of that order can split continents and raise mountain ranges. That order extends outward like a combination of ever-increasing centrifuges bypassing both the interstellar and intergalactic. In fact, we now have the technology to determine that this known universe is still expanding.
Each step in what seems to us new knowledge only increases the wonder and possibilities of something that defies limits.
But then, if it is still expanding, it must have a beginning point. All those exacting and precise circles lead back to a single moment of creation.
Yet this massive creation is not just some masterfully designed clock crafted by genius and left to function mechanically solely on its own. There is another element besides the physical that is ever-present. Seemingly without form or shape, taste or smell, it is still felt in all of our lives, throughout our lives. It hardly seems as predictable as the physical, but its characteristics and effects can well be much more eternal. And are actually more consistent.
The divine hand which created the physical has a go-between created in His own image who has access to the more powerful, the more eternal spiritual. This creation is every bit as spiritual a place as it is physical.
Man alone exists to connect with that spiritual outreach from the Divine. In this known world, only human beings have been gifted with the ability to choose, to decide for themselves. A grizzly might kill a cub that it had sired, and often does. He acts on instinct and to him what is raw, unfiltered necessity. It is simply a natural act regardless of how seemingly cruel and needless. But if a human being commits the same act to its child, it is an act of evil. The human being has not just the power of reason and logic but the power to decide his own actions and directions.
That ability to decide, to choose is a gift from a Creator who wants a direct, true relationship with the human being. As in most relationships, if one side has no choice but to join in a lack of depth, of intimacy, is always present. Mankind was given the sense of the very real spiritual, so the relationship between himself and his Creator could be personal. It is through the spiritual that the human life can reach heights and depths that would never be experienced in the solely physical.
But with choices come dangers. For Man to freely and willingly join in the positives of the spiritual, he must be exposed to the dangers and negatives of making bad choices, of rejecting the sincerity necessary for connecting with a loving but powerful God, the inclination to desire equality with the hand that made him, the tendency toward foolish and selfish pride, to be more impressed with the structured creation around him than the quiet but eternal power of the one who made it all. In short, to sin.
Each strain of human DNA contains possibilities of individual greatness and achievement and service while at the same time harboring the seeds of deep evil and all that lies between the two extremes. The outcomes are determined by the willing human connection of his heart and spirit to that eternal spiritual outreach.
A loving God always stands ready, eager to enter the human heart. But He will never force his way in, even though he could. It is a love and respect for the individual that He rarely receives back.
Christmas represents the ultimate outreach from that Creator. As planned, a sacred piece of the Divine allowed itself to become human, subject to all the temptations, pains, joys, and threats that each of us fights with every day. Beginning Christmas Day, a perfect offering was being prepared as payment for all the human transgressions past and future so that each human being could, by his own choice, step directly into a personal relationship that would give fulfillment and purpose beyond anything offered by the secular.
The Christ Child was born to die a harsh physical death, but one with a distinct and eternal purpose. This after giving the world a living example of how we can all better honor our Creator and each other. That was the mission.
There is an almost endless stream of thoughts that can be gleaned from this event and all would be important. But for whatever reason, two that came to mind sitting in the still of a winding-down Christmas evening were Courage and Duty. They are two words that belong together.
The child born that first Christmas Eve might have had divine origins but it came into this world very much in the flesh. That is the only way that the coming sacrifice could have its full meaning and impact. That child would suffer as we suffer, wrestle with the worldly hurts and concerns that we do and then give Himself up to the cruel physical death He knew was coming His whole life.
Courage and Duty need each other. As admirable as Courage might be, it requires purpose to be meaningful. Courage for its own sake turns into vanity. Simply realizing a Duty does not fulfill it without the Courage to follow through not just at the dramatic moments but also in the long, daily, continuous requirements because Duty is not a momentary thing. It is an every day, every minute thing.
We all have a gift of salvation because that Christ Child grew to manhood and fulfilled His Duty with Courage that overrode the very real concerns of the flesh He had willingly entered into. The example reminds us that our own fleshly concerns and conflicts can be met with Courage and Duty. We were not just gifted with salvation but with a model of how to better manage our secular lives with meaning and purpose.
If we determine to focus more on Courage and Duty in the coming year, it is of highest importance that we honestly decide just where our Duty lies. The Courage part may well begin with just how honest we are with ourselves, remembering that both actions and words will be required in support of that Duty. Courage does not eliminate fears or discomfort but it does demand action. It is not a contradiction to be fearful but act fearlessly. In fact, it is a genuine measure of Courage.
At the moment, we suffer from a true shortage of both Courage and Duty, as well as the clarity needed to see each one.
Two others words that I will pair up for reflection are Liberty and Responsibility. I contend that each cannot be fully practiced without the other. I know that some who have read these pages feel I overuse the term of Liberty and I readily admit that I prefer it to freedom. But most know me for being overly simple-minded and give some allowances, deserved or not.
Among all of the creation, man is the organism not a complete captive to his DNA. He has the ability, the Liberty, to decide. To choose. The things which matter most, those of the spirit and the heart, are not bound to those tiny strains of genetic material. Man does not have to be bound by the evil of the world or even the evil possibilities he has within himself. He has been gifted the freedom from them by the sacrifices of a supreme being.
I fear we simply do not cherish the Liberty we have so easily inherited. Or grasp the deep meaning that its existence carries. To grant us this Liberty, this freedom, God Himself choses to limit himself so that we can have this gift. An all-powerful God chooses not to force us to accept Him but instead stands ready to enter our hearts at a moment’s notice, displaying both hope and faith in what we decide. It is only through this free choice that we match our full potential. Love and Liberty are beyond scientific proof but they are perhaps much more real than the most solid physical structures on earth. They complete man in ways that open dimensions unknown to other secular beings.
The Creator has been offering Liberty to man from well before He lifted the Hebrews from Egyptian slavery. That Liberty, that blessing, has been the intent for man from the beginning. It has been a long journey marked time and again by human shortcomings and the stubborn, loving determination of the Creator for them to be overcome.
Liberty is self-expression itself. But it is not license. It is not comfortable or carefree. Because of the choices which comes with it, it demands Responsibility. It cannot be practiced without Responsibility. The choices mean that there must be moments of not just self-expression but also self-restraint, self-limitation (just as God Himself chooses to limit Himself to give us Liberty), and, of course, self-sacrifice.
I would hope that in the coming year, we gain an even deeper realization of the Liberty we have been gifted with, its divine source, the Duty that comes with it and display the Courage necessary to openly and forcefully challenge the spirit of evil which roams our secular world, believing that clear and bold but wise action is required of those spirits to be commanded out of our way to a closer realization of what we are intended to be, both individually and nationally.Published in