The podcast is available here.
There was once an absent-minded professor who became so absorbed in his work that he forgot the simplest details. One morning his wife said, “Now Henry, remember, we are moving today. Here, I’m putting this note in your pocket. Don’t forget.” The day passed by and the man came home to his house. He entered the front door, and found the place empty. Distraught, he walked out to the curb and sat down. A young boy walked up to him, and he asked him, “Little boy, do you know the people who used to live here?”
The boy replied, “Sure, Dad, Mom told me you’d forget.”
I don’t care if you’re moving from Montana to Oklahoma or just across the street, moving is unpleasant. The packing, the mess, fingers stained with newspaper print, the trucks, everything. At first you’re packing everything nice and tidy, making sure nothing will break, but after a few days your chucking Granma’s china in a box and wishing it the best of luck. And then there’s all the stuff you’ve been hanging on to for years, only to discover that it fits into a garbage can a whole lot easier than it fits into a box!
Over the course of the last 30 years, I’ve moved more times than I care to think about. From home to college, college to home, home to first apartment, on and on. Interestingly enough, through all the moves, I’ve always had one habit: I keep the boxes. I break them down, bundle them up, and store them away so that I can get at them for the next time. Why do I plan for the next move? Because I don’t ever actually plan to stay. I don’t ever plan to fully commit. Why? Fear? Maybe. Never satisfied? Not sure. I really don’t know why? So I kept the boxes.
Dido. Beautiful voice and singer. And please don’t tell Scarlett Johannson I said this, because I don’t want to ruin my chances with her, but… Dido… “How you doin’?” Anyhow, I very much enjoy her music and she has this song, Life for Rent. I won’t sing it for you, but the lyrics of the refrain speak a good bit of truth about my boxes:
If my life is for rent and I don’t learn to buy
Well I deserve nothing more than I get
’cause nothing I have is truly mine
If my life is for rent, if I’m just going to keep the boxes in anticipation of the next move, and not buy, not commit, then I actually have nothing, everything is temporary. The upside, if things don’t work out, moving is a pain, but all I have to do is haul out the boxes and start packing. For the record: after the last move I made, I got rid of all the boxes. You all have a way of growing on a fella.
So, what does all this business about boxes and moving have to do with today, the Epiphany of Our Lord?
The Epiphany is really all about how the God of the Jews, the One True God, was first revealed to the Gentiles, and it just so happens that the Gentiles are represented by the wise men from the East who came with their gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh, each having a symbolic meaning. Gold was the gift for royalty, frankincense was offered up as incense to the deity, and myrrh was a primary ingredient for embalming. The wise men saw Jesus as king and God, but they also anticipated his death.
This is where my head got stuck this week: in thinking about this revealing of God to the Gentile visitors and the very fine and valuable gifts they brought, but we know that the Lord has need of nothing we can bring. St. Paul said to the Athenians, “The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things.” God has no need of anything that we can bring him, but he does have a desire, of which we have spoken before: God “desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” God needs nothing from us, but he desires, he has this furious longing that we come to him in love. The wise men brought their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, but the Lord says through the author of Proverbs: “My child, give me your heart.” (Proverbs 23:26a) Give me your heart. Again, nothing new. We give God our hearts, ourselves, but you know what we do? We keep the boxes.
We don’t move into this relationship completely. Why? Same reasons I didn’t give up my boxes. Fear. Doubts. Other opportunities.
“Ok, Lord. Let’s walk down this path together, but…” I’m prepared to give you my heart as long as I don’t need it. You see, I’ve got all these other items on my To Do list that I want to check off. I understand that you have a desire for me, but I’ve got my own desires that I intend on fulfilling, so I’ll give you my heart, until I need it back, then I’m going to pack my boxes and move on. If you’re still here when I get back, maybe we can pick up again, but… but…
Last week we talked about free will. How God has given us the gift of choice. God chose us to be the recipients of his furious love, which left us with this free will, the option to choose to accept or reject Him. Many choose to accept, to believe in him, but how many choose to fully commit, to throw out the boxes?
We aren’t talking about committing to New Year’s resolutions here. Those last 20 pounds. Etc. Instead, we’re talking about that one thing that has been tugging at you for a while, nagging at you to do or change about yourself in order to fully commit to Christ’s call on your life, but you don’t because… fear, options, because, etc. Got to keep the boxes. That great and wise sage Howard Stern says, “The only way to be successful at anything is NOT to have a backup plan.”
The Lord says, “I will never leave you or forsake you,” and Jesus says, “I am with you always, to the end of the age.” The Lord has not “kept the boxes.” Even in the midst of his greatest trial, he never wavered. Charles Spurgeon wrote, “You never hear Jesus say in Pilate’s judgment hall one word that would let you imagine that He was sorry that He had undertaken so costly a sacrifice for us. When His hands are pierced, when He is parched with fever, His tongue dried up like a shard of pottery, when His whole body is dissolved into the dust of death, you never hear a groan or a shriek that looks like Jesus is going back on His commitment.” This from the one who loved you before you even knew his name. If he has committed to you so completely, then pitch out the boxes, the excuses, the fears, whatever is holding you back from fully committing yourself to him, and enter into the salvation and joy of the Lord.
My friend St. Josemaría Escrivá: “Consider what is most beautiful and most noble on earth, what pleases the mind and the other faculties, and what delights the flesh and the senses. Consider the world, and the other worlds that shine I the night—the whole universe. And this, along with all the satisfied follies of the heart, is worth nothing, is nothing and less than nothing, compared with this God of mine!… of yours!” (The Way #432)
Throw out the boxes. Just as the wise men gave the Christ child their gifts, give the Lord your heart without reservation or condition.
Let us pray:
Father of light,
today you reveal to all who come to faith
in you the resplendent fact of the Word made flesh.
Your light is strong,
Your love is near;
draw us beyond the limits
which this world imposes,
to the life where Your Spirit
makes all life complete.
We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.