The first half of life we long after a vision of the Kingdom. The second half of life we long after a dream of Home. We spend half our lives trying to grasp at a future that never fully arrives and the other half of our lives trying to hold on to a past that was never fully there. Those who stop short of the kingdom of God will be lead away from joy into an increasingly acute restlessness, and those who stop short of our eternal homecoming will be led away from peace into an ever deepening heartache. We are diseased with both wanderlust and homesickness, and nothing short of the infinite horizon and all eternity to both settle in it and explore it can satisfy the longings of the soul anchored in the living God who gives it breath (Eccles. 3).
Why is the high school student aimlessly charged with a need to just “get out of the house”? Why does same high school student twenty years later find himself trying to recreate the home he grew up in? Why do boys resent their moms more than anyone when they are young and love their moms more than anyone when they are old? Why is it that in childhood we long for adulthood and in adulthood we long for childhood? Why do young girls and old women both want to be twenty year-old models, even though twenty year-old models don’t want to be themselves? Why does life teeter between restless pursuits and just as restless arrivals?
Why does Christmas make us feel the way it does?
The number one problem concerning the Kingdom that was about to enter Zechariah’s world–in a manger–was not that it was too small but that it was too large. The grand vision of the kingdom of God had been reduced to the grandest vision of the kingdom of Israel. And that just wasn’t grand enough to accommodate God’s vision for the world. But this is always the rub.
Visions of national sovereignty satisfy enough the kingdom-shaped longings of our youth and protect enough the home-shaped longings of later life. So we settle, indeed, for the small. We want peace in our nation, absolutely, but world peace is reserved for the wishful thinking of hippies on earth and religious thinking about heaven in the hereafter.
Maybe that’s why the angel gave Zechariah’s son a name that came out of nowhere (wasn’t a family name; the neighbors thought it was odd, Lk. 1:60-61) and why John never went by his given name. He simply called himself “A Voice.” He was “the Voice crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord’.” None of the accepted categories for what God was planning to do were big enough. They never are.
So God brings life forth through Elizabeth’s barrenness, a messenger from Zechariah’s silence, and “A Voice” crying out in the wilderness, because this life and its voice were preparing the world for a kingdom-shaped world as big as the earth and a home-shaped life as eternal as heaven. The world had given up on such a grandiose hope. A truly new Voice was required to proclaim the infinite horizons of a kingdom that should be too good to be true. This required a reorientation.
Advent is our reorientation to the Voice of the one who tells us to listen to our deepest longings and announces the Gospel of God’s infinite kingdom as our eternal home. But this Voice always has to come from the silence, because even the Church is in the habit of losing its voice and settling for status quo. Advent silences that old cynicism and says listen up! There is One coming! Prepare the way! Don’t sell yourself short! The world always wants to give up on that grand of a kingdom but God always raises up a Voice that refuses to let hope be silenced.
There is a Voice that calls out in the wilderness of your heart, the same wilderness that leads you looking for a vision of the kingdom but too often leaves you aching with a dream of home. That Voice comes to the wilderness to announce the One who is greater than us because he is before us, whose shoes we are unworthy to untie. It is the Voice that comes in opposition to our righteousness, that tells us to bear fruit worthy of repentance. It is the Voice of Advent that says: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make straight his paths in the desert?’ (Isa. 40:3; Mt. 3:3; Mk. 1:3; Lk. 3:4; Jn. 1:23). And it is the only Voice that will lead to the Kingdom that won’t leave you in the desert without a home.
I think the words of Frederick Buechner’s echo that Voice well. I’ll end in their wake…
“The world floods in on all of us. The world can be kind, and it can be cruel. It can be beautiful, and it can be appalling. It can give us good reason to hope and good reason to give up all hope. It can strengthen our faith in a loving God, and it can decimate our faith. In our lives in the world, the temptation is always to go where the world takes us, to drift with whatever current happens to be running strongest. When good things happen, we rise to heaven; when bad things happen, we descend to hell. When the world strikes out at us, we strike back, and when one way or another the world blesses us, our spirits soar. I know this to be true of no one as well as I know it to be true of myself. I know how just the weather can affect my whole state of mind for good or ill, how just getting stuck in a traffic jam can ruin an afternoon that in every other way is so beautiful that it dazzles the heart. We are in constant danger of being not actors in the drama of our own lives but reactors. The fragmentary nature of our experience shatters us into fragments. Instead of being whole, most of the time we are in pieces, and we see the world in pieces, full of darkness at one moment and full of light the next.
“It is in Jesus, of course, and in the people whose lives have been deeply touched by Jesus, and in ourselves at those moments when we also are deeply touched by him, that we see another way of being human in this world, which is the way of wholeness. When we glimpse that wholeness in others, we recognize it immediately for what it is, and the reason we recognize it, I believe, is that no matter how much the world shatters us to pieces, we carry inside us a vision of wholeness that we sense is our true home and that beckons to us. It is part of what the book of Genesis means by saying that we are made in the image of God. It is part of what Saint Paul means by saying that the deepest undercurrent of all creation is the current that seeks to draw us toward what he calls mature humanhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ….Joy is home, and I believe that the tears that [come] to our eyes [are] more than anything else homesick tears.
“Woe to us indeed if we forget the homeless ones who have no vote, no power, nobody to lobby for them, and who might as well have no faces even, the way we try to avoid the troubling sight of them in the streets of the cities where they roam like stray cats as we listen each night to the news of what happened in our lives that day, woe to us if we forget our own homelessness.
To be homeless in the way people like you and me are apt to be homeless is to have homes all over the place but not to be really at home in any of them. To be really at home is to be really at peace, and our lives are so intricately interwoven that there can be no real peace for any of us until there is peace for all of us.”
Buechner, The Longing for Home: Recollections and Reflections