The Christmas Gift

[The following is a short story from the collection (book): In These Last Days: Shorts Stories of Humor and Whoa. Each story is the last day of a person’s life only they have no idea at all. Some or humorous; others not so very much so. This one is hopeful.]

coleman_boostercables__b02tg9Brenton Sax felt foolish the day he died. But the first thing you should know about him was that he was a Christian man, a deacon in fact, who was well known and respected an the North Hill Presbyterian Church. He served on a committee every Tuesday evening, and he gave his 10 percent (albeit begrudgingly, but his wife insisted, and it was, after all, tax deductible) to the stewardship committee.

He woke up that morning, ate a silent breakfast with his wife and read the paper. His children had already trudged off to catch the bus for their last day of school before Christmas vacation.

It was the 21st of December, and he was sitting at the breakfast table  thinking very hard  about the exact location of his battery cables. The reason he did this, was because he had done something the day before that he was still uncomfortable with. He thought about yesterday morning, and tried to piece together what had happen.

He remembered he had been late for an important meeting. He was cursing a small cloud, and sweating a little on the forehead and around the collar as he gingerly crunched across the crystaline turf toward his car. After putting his briefcase and lunch on the passenger side seat of his late modeled Chevy sedan, he shut the door and turned around just in time to see a large black man approaching him.

This worried him a little. Not many black men lived in his neighborhood. This man wasn’t one of them; he wasn’t dressed well, and he seemed to be agitated.

“I’m going to get robbed,” he had thought to himself, “ oh shit.

“Heh Man. . “the man started to say.

“Is there something I can do for you?” Sax said sharply, a hint of aggression in his voice.

“Yeah. I’m from out of town visiting a friend,” the man said rubbing his hands together for warmth, “and I left my car lights on. The battery’s dead. Could you give me a jump?”

Brenton Sax had felt relieved because it looked very much like he would not  be robbed, but he was annoyed because he was very late as it was. “I’m sorry, I don’t have time to give you a jump. The best I can do is give you my battery cables so someone else can jump your car. When you finish, you can put them over by the fence, behind the garbage can.”

“Hey, that would be great man,” the man said.

“Why did I say that?” Brenton Sax thought as he opened his trunk and extracting the twisted pile of greasy cables.  “Oh well,” he thought “I said it, so I can’t do anything about it now.” He gave the man the battery cables, and the black man put out his hand, and Brenton Sax shook it and said, “Good luck.” Then they parted ways.

After he was hurrying down the freeway, Brenton Sax thought about his battery cables, and the fact, as he saw it, that he would never see them again. “Well, treasure in heaven, I suppose,” he said to himself, and he felt a little better, although still a little angry over the fact that he had been so unwise as to just hand the man his battery cables.

He thought at the time about the black man, and that he had nothing against blacks, it was just that he had never been around any (with the exception, he thought, of the black family who attended his church. He always noticed them, because they were dark, and that stood out in the congregation that was very white). So, he didn’t know anything about them. “It was dumb, but I’m late. And besides that he could  have robbed me.”

That evening, Brenton Sax arrived home at 11:30 p.m. He was very tired, but he had not forgotten the battery cables he had given to the man. As he pulled the big sedan into the driveway, the lights creased the frosted garbage cans and the fence, and Brenton Sax saw that the battery cables were right where he had asked the man to leave them.

“Well, if that doesn’t beat all?” he laughed to himself. Then he did the second uncharacteristic thing of the day: he left them there.

Two things about Mr. Sax were laid deep in his character: He never gave things to strangers, and he never left his personal property unguarded. This day had been like every other day, with the exception of these two battery cable-related incidents.

The reason for the deviation was fatigue. Brenton Sax was tired, “and besides that, it’s cold and I haven’t got enough arms,” he said to himself as he balanced his briefcase, lunchbox and leather portfolio in his arms and walked quickly towards the front door. “I’ll just get’m in the morning,” he told himself.

The Next Morning

In the morning, when he went out for his paper, he also went out to the garbage cans by the fence to retrieve the battery cables. “Dammit, they aren’t here,” he said to the half-empty cans. Then he turned and went back into the house.

And that was what Brenton Sax was thinking about as he finished his coffee, and left for work.

He would have been on time this morning, since he left good and early figuring the traffic would be heavy – which usually cost him about twenty minutes – but as he was waiting in heavy traffic under an overpass, he had no idea what was about to befall him.

Neither did Rex Richardson, who had heavily overloaded his semi-truck earlier that morning.

To make a short story shorter, the weight of Rex Richardson’s over-weighted semi-truck, combined with the weight of the cars waiting on the overpass which had been weakened by recent earthquakes, was just enough to break the overpass supports and send the whole lot of them (and most of the huge cement overpass),  raining down on the cars below, including Brenton Sax’s Chevy sedan.

Later, it would be up to an L.A. coroner to instruct his team on how to subtract Brenton Sax from what used to be his sedan; but Brenton Sax was not at all concerned about this because at that very moment he had been welcomed to heaven after what seemed to be a very quick trial .

The charges had been viewed in front of a host of twelve judges and God Himself, who, by the way, didn’t look anything like how Brenton Sax had imagined Him. But , there was no mistaking his being God. Everyone in that immense and glorious room knew who God was, and because of this, they also knew who they were.

Brenton Sax’s life was reviewed pronto.  And just as everyone had certain and living knowledge of  God’s person;  everyone also knew that Brenton Sax was guilty of a great number of things; certainly a lot more than he himself had been aware of. “I am guilty.” Brenton Sax said, without doubting or disputing.

Then One called the Son of Man appealed on Brenton Sax’s behalf. “He is guilty,” he said, “ but he has given me permission to pay his penalty. The defense rests.” And with that Brenton Sax was welcomed into heaven.

“Let’s go for a walk,” the Son of Man said.

“Lord, when did we meet, when did I give you the permission you spoke of?” Brenton Sax asked.  “It all seems like so long ago.”

“You were a boy of fifteen, and You were at a campfire meeting at the end of a church retreat. The preacher said a lot of things about Me; and the Father wanted you to be with Him very much. At the end, the preacher asked if anyone wanted to meet Me. He said that if they did, they should “throw their faggots in the fire.”  At the time, that meant  you should  throw a small stick into the campfire to signify an opening of life and heart to Me, and not at all what Jerry Falwell used to mean.”

Brenton Sax didn’t know if it was okay to laugh or not.

The Son of Man laughed and said “It’s okay to laugh for we dry away every tear most especially those caused by ignorance or hate.”

Then the Son of Man said, “You know, don’t you, that you have a reward?”

Ah no. . . ahem, but , ah . . .it really isn’t necessary, but if you say so,” said Brenton Sax.

“Some who come have great treasures and riches, and others have only their residency here; but all are full,” said the Son of Man. And at that moment Brenton Sax realized that he felt full and complete in the radiance of God Himself. He knew he lacked nothing, and would never lack again, or feel homeless or strange.

“I used to say that men and women should lay up treasure in heaven, and not on earth,” said the Son of Man. “I meant they should give their lives away like I did. Needless to say, treasure is hard to come by, especially this year. It’s a bad year for treasure. But  you did send one thing here ahead of you.”

And there, on the Onyx table, was a pair of battery cables.

And God, and the Community of Heaven all began to laugh lovingly, and Brenton Sax understood,  for he was laughing the fullest of all.

 

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Athanasius: A Man For All Seasons

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St. Athanasius

Athanasius: The True Man for All Seasons

(a paper to be turned in tomorrow..make comments)

By Christopher C. MacDonald  

As impressive as Paul Scofield was in his portrayal of Thomas More in the 1966 film A Man For All Seasons, the man of conscience depicted there cannot really hold a candle to St. Athanasius who was once known as “Athanasius Contra Mundum (Latin for Athanasius Against the World).”[1]

My assertion is that in the middle of our relativistic Postmodern landscape in which we have either commercialized Jesus into a form of “Betterment Gospel” or dispersed him in some form of idealized semi-Gnostic way it is exactly with Athanasian clarity that we need to re-frame – or at least refresh – our Christology in significant ways.

The following are four short snapshots from Athanasius’ brilliantly compact booklet entitled On the Incarnation. Each was selected expressly for its relevance to the current Postmodern situation.

Let us admit from the outset that while Athanasius had enemies it was a smaller pool. He did not have to answer an unending number of critics coming from all sides. Nor did he have to deal with the legacies of centuries old “theologies” and traditions (as he was writing in the Fourth Century.)

Context

Athansius sees the controversy or question over the “Word made flesh” in terms straight out of 1 Corinthians 1:18-23 concerning the wisdom of the world and the wisdom of God:

Now, Macarius, true lover of Christ, we must take a step further in the faith of our holy religion, and consider also the Word’s becoming Man and His divine Appearing in our midst. That mystery the Jews traduce, the Greeks deride, but we adore; and your own love and devotion to the Word also will be the greater, because in His Manhood He seems so little worth.[2]

 

Firmly rooted within St. Paul’s rubric which understands an inherent blindness on the part of both Jews and Gentiles to the “mystery” of  Christ’s true dual nature, Athanasius sets out to boldly make the case to both audiences nonetheless. The motive seems to be adoration, devotion and truth-telling.   

  1. The Word Incarnate is the Agent of Creation and of Salvation

Athanasius is utterly clear where we are so utterly vague and confused on the utter connection between Creation and Redemption:

“the first fact that you must grasp is this: the renewal of creation has been wrought by the Self-same Word Who made it in the beginning. There is thus no inconsistency between creation and salvation for the One Father has employed the same Agent for both works, effecting the salvation of the world through the same Word Who made it in the beginning.”

 

One of the things which is striking in reading Athanasius is how he weaves scripture artfully through his presentation – not proof-texting as we so often do (like hanging a hat on a peg), but rather lacing his presentation with strains of well-chosen passages that are placed almost organically within his argument.

 

He sees the beauty and seamlessness of Christ as the Agent of Creation Who now is also the redemption of that Creation once fallen.

    

  1. Human History has Meaning and Corruption is Thwarted.

Naturally also, through this union of the immortal Son of God with our human nature, all men were clothed with incorruption in the promise of the resurrection…You know how it is when some great king enters a large city and dwells in one of its houses; because of his dwelling in that single house, the whole city is honored, and enemies and robbers cease to molest it. Even so is it with the King of all; He has come into our country and dwelt in one body amidst the many, and in consequence the designs of the enemy against mankind have been foiled and the corruption of death, which formerly held them in its power, has simply ceased to be. For the human race would have perished utterly had not the Lord and Savior of all, the Son of God, come among us to put an end to death.[3]

 

When the Word became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14) human history had been more than simply “tampered with.” Any talk of a Creator winding up Creation and walking off to let it do its thing was off the table. This was a God willing to gestate in a womb for nine months and spill out of a womb. This was the Word willing to take on sin, the devil and death. What happened in time and space mattered because as T.S. Eliot so eloquently would later write:

Then came, at a predetermined moment, a moment in time and of time,
A moment not out of time, but in time, in what we call history:

transecting, bisecting the world of time, a moment in time but not like a moment of time,

A moment in time but time was made through that moment :

for without the meaning there is no time, and that moment of time gave the meaning.

Then it seemed as if men must proceed from light to light, in the light of the Word,
Through the Passion and Sacrifice saved in spite of their negative being;[4]

 

Biblical faith is one of incarnation not reincarnation. That God came into the world as flesh and blood in time and space means what happens here and now matters. IT also demonstrates the extraordinary love of God.

  1. We Die a Different Death Overshadowed by Resurrection

Having set out the dilemma for a fallen and corruptible humanity in chapters 2-3  Athanasius begins to turn to the results of the Word made Flesh’s redemptive rescue operation saying:

We who believe in Christ no longer die, as men died aforetime, in fulfillment of the threat of the law. That condemnation has come to an end; and now that, by the grace of the resurrection, corruption has been banished and done away, we are loosed from our mortal bodies in God’s good time for each, so that we may obtain thereby a better resurrection.[5]

 

This seems a more cavalier attitude than the one we Postmoderns carry with us in our near silence on bodily resurrection as a reality and our avoidance with the rest of culture on mortality. Athanasius, along with the New Testament writers (especially Paul) see the resurrection hope as particularly powerful. Some modern authors do to. I am reminded of sociologist Peter Berger’s comment that “given the resurrection of Jesus “nothing is ultimately tragic.”[6] That can certainly be a game-changer in planning and living out one’s life and faith. What he means is simply that the power of death was sin and that died with Christ as sacrifice and then He was raised up from the dead, “Death used to be strong and terrible, but now, since the sojourn of the Savior and the death and resurrection of His body, it is despised; and obviously it is by the very Christ Who mounted on the cross that it has been destroyed and vanquished finally.” (On the Incarnation, p. 45).

  1. The Word Made Flesh leads to Peace Not War-Like Militarism

Athanasius, in his refutation of the Gentiles and his evangelistic appeal, writes something we dearly need to hear today as we attempt to join military might to religious agendas (specifically Christian):

While they were yet idolaters, the Greeks and Barbarians were always at war with each other, and were even cruel to their own kith and kin. Nobody could travel by land or sea at all unless he was armed with swords, because of their irreconcilable quarrels with each other. … as I said before, they were serving idols and offering sacrifices to demons, and for all the superstitious awe that accompanied this idol worship, nothing could wean them from that warlike spirit. But, strange to relate, since they came over to the school of Christ, as men moved with real compunction they have laid aside their murderous cruelty and are war-minded no more. On the contrary, all is peace among them and nothing remains save desire for friendship. (52) Who, then, is He Who has done these things and has united in peace those who hated each other, save the beloved Son of the Father, the common Savior of all, Jesus Christ, Who by His own love underwent all things for our salvation? Even from the beginning, moreover, this peace that He was to administer was foretold, for Scripture says, “They shall beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into sickles, and nation shall not take sword against nation, neither shall they learn any more to wage war.”[7]

 

One of the things that set the Gospel a world apart from the idolatrous Heathen states was How Jesus and His Gospel of love lead to peace and a new way. The Kingdom of God and Christ’s Lordship took precedence over former idolatries and one supposes even ethnic ties as the faith went world-wide. We seem to be arming-up and attaching a religious agenda (alibi) to it at exactly the point where Athanasius says Christians were laying down weapons and turning them into plowshares. To him this was evidence of God’s presence in their lives.

 

Athanasius goes on to strengthen the point saying,

 

“The barbarians of the present day are naturally savage in their habits, and as long as they sacrifice to their idols they rage furiously against each other and cannot bear to be a single hour without weapons. But when they hear the teaching of Christ, forthwith they turn from fighting to farming, and instead of arming themselves with swords extend their hands in prayer. In a word, instead of fighting each other, they take up arms against the devil and the demons, and overcome them by their selfcommand and integrity of soul. These facts are proof of the Godhead of the Savior, for He has taught men what they could never learn among the idols. It is also no small exposure of the weakness and nothingness of demons and idols, for it was because they knew their own weakness that the demons were always setting men to fight each other, fearing lest, if they ceased from mutual strife, they would turn to attack the demons themselves.”

 

It’s a point well taken (about keeping us fighting each other) . If we hope to stand out as truly different than an barbaric world which knows only violence, idolatry and fear then we have to act in active faith hope and love. Apparently the believers in Athanasius’ time did just that.  

 

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[1] Wikipedia article on Saint Athanasius, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Athanasius_of_Alexandria.  Cited on 12/8/2015.

[2] Athanasius, On the Incarnation (De Incarnatione Verbi Dei) St. Mark Coptic Orthodox Church, Jersey City, NJ. 1999. Available in PDF. p. 4

[3] Athanasius, Ibid., p. 16

[4] Eliot, T.S. T.S. Eliot Collected Poems 1909-1962 “Choruses From the Rock,” (Harcourt Brace & Co., New York, 1963) p. 163.

[5] Athanasius, Ibid., p. 34.

[6] Berger, Peter L. The Precarious Vision. Doubleday & Co., 1961

[7] Athanasius, ibid., p. 82-83.