Freedom takes a long time to bake, doesn’t it? And its smell fills our homes like a slow-roasted turkey or ham.
But it starts out raw. Yes, even like a carcass.
For centuries, God’s people had been starving in a desert of their own making. They hungered for liberation. They craved a table set for a king.
But once He arrived in Bethlehem, the meal didn’t look too much like a feast. In fact, He seemed to embrace the confinement of a wooden trough, a place setting for an animal. Not for royalty.
It looked like the wrong meal. After all, what kind of King invites His loved ones to a stable in the middle of the night?
And yet here, crying on a bed of straw, rests the salvation of the world.
Christmas is all about climax, all about waiting. It can be a hard journey for children and adults alike, though for different reasons. We pine for the sustained rest which follows the climax, much more than the slow-moving, dusty trek to its summit.
Especially as we feel the bloat of work parties, cookies and receipts.
We just long to get through it.
We look toward some moment of freedom and finality, shining before us like a distant star.
This morning I watched an excerpt of an interview with Wendell Berry, where he addressed the limits we confront as we approach freedom. Berry is a noted writer, critic, and farmer. He understands how things grow. Things like waiting.
Many of us, on the other hand, choose to spend our time in bondage, feeling as though we’ve been strapped down under bungee cords while we do our waiting. Or maybe we feel boxed in on four sides, as if we’re waiting in some dirty wooden trough. Something meant for animals.
Not for us, we cry. But maybe if we can just make it until …
Until we get what we want.
On the subject of freedom, Berry highlighted some of these natural inclinations as he described two important, all-consuming rites of passage. “Well, you know, when young people get their driver’s license when they turn 16, they think they’ve got all their problems solved,” he responded during a question and answer session. “And marriage is something like that. People get married, you know, married for love, and they think, well, they’ve got all their problems solved. And they’re wrong. They’ve just taken on problems that they need to deal with. And that’s largely the problem of the Self.”
Suddenly, the climax — for which we have been waiting our entire lives — now appears further off in the future again. And we want out of the box. Or maybe we want to pull the turkey from the oven.
But Berry reminds us that something is happening during the waiting. Something, or someone, is being transformed, even if from the outside in.
The secret is “to accept that limit,” he said, “with the idea that accepting the limit is not necessarily limiting yourself — but rather exposing yourself to the possibility of discovery, of the richness that can be found within limits.”
Typically, marriage isn’t a topic to come up during the Christmas season. And we don’t generally hear too much about the subject of limits either. We hear more about extravagance and immediate gratification. But Berry’s discussion of the limitations involved in marriage reminds me of the many ways the aroma of freedom can waft through our homes.
We wait for marriage. We wait for babies. We wait for jobs, vacations, and even healings to take place. We spend our lives waiting for breakthroughs. And each one is wrapped up and lying in a manger of limitations.
And that wooden trough reminds me, too, of “the possibility of discovery, of the richness that can be found within limits.”
Yes, we can discover salvation within limits of waiting. Even your closed oven door will open, eventually, when the Gift is good and ready.