Advent 4: The Boundless, Bound

The House is built. We see the door. We have the keys. 

David, to keep up with his royal neighbours of other nations, wanted to build a house for his God. He would have put four walls around the One beyond time and space: he would have bounded the boundless and unboundable. Yet, as every English child used to know before Rowling and Pullman usurped C.S. Lewis, you cannot tie Aslan down unless he lets you.

David did not build a temple: that was left to his son, Solomon, and it was destroyed, rebuilt, and destroyed again in AD70. But this is not an argument against the building of temples or of churches. It is not to say that these four walls do not matter, that they may as well house a shop or a bar or a private home as an altar. It is not to say that the “Church is the people,” so we can flog off the buildings tended by generations of parishioners or let them crumble. For while David could not build a house for God, God could and did make his house here, and not in human flesh alone. Aslan did let himself be bound: bound to matter, bound to the hard stone table. And so the Divine Word of God set up camp among us in matter, let himself be bound: bound to the matter of human flesh amid the flesh of sheep and donkeys, bound with the sinners on Jordan’s banks to the water which gives life and cleanses, bound by nails to the biting wood of the Cross, bound by the tombstone into the earth itself. The very principle of order which gives reason, sense and meaning to Creation, the Divine Mind beyond all comprehension, comprehended itself here among us, let itself be bound to matter animate and inanimate, human and animal, plant and soil, and by its very binding blessed its bonds. 

It would be a foolish Christian indeed who claims to love the Church yet scorns the wood and stone by which God gives us being and salvation. We cannot build a house for God from wood and stone: yet the House God built is not a spiritual house alone, a house of souls of men and angels, but a spiritual house incarnate – and it is not confined to flesh, but as the Psalmists and the Prophets sing, even the stars and sun wordlessly proclaim the glory of their maker (Ps 19), the seas and floods roar for joy (Ps 98), the trees and hills applaud (Isa 55:12), and all the works of the Lord, from the angels, stars and seasons to the wells, whales, fowls and beasts of sea, air and earth bless, praise and magnify Him for ever (Te Deum). The spires and arches we build for God are only only tracings of glory and order we discern around us, and even those are imperfect reflections of the perfect architecture enfolded in the Divine Mind. Yet reflections and traces they are, however imperfect they may be. Through the flawed and passing temple of the cosmos, refined to its essential forms in churches like this by human imagination and hands, we take part in the eternal liturgy of the Temple above, where we see the glory no longer through a glass darkly, in a smeared and cracked mirror, but face-to-face. All that is good, all that is harmonious, all that gives joy and rest and refreshment to our souls in this world, all those celebrations held back from us and loves lost to us this year – the house of heaven is all those, magnified beyond our imagination, a dance of never-fading mirrors perfectly reflecting the divine light they surround.  

The House is built. The places are set, the floor is clear. But to get in, we need to find the door. 

The Inner Door is a curtain of human flesh. Conceived the moment Mary whispered, “Let it be,” the Door grew: high enough that those with eyes could see that through it, the Great King had entered in (Ps 24). The idols we make limit and constrain the gaze, like dungeon doors shut fast forever, wood or stone in place of God. But the baby born in the poor stable did not bind the glory and wealth of God, but released it, opened it, emptied it out. Christ the Door opens and invites us to expand our gaze, reveals new and infinite vistas. This is the difference between an idol and an icon. I do not think it a coincidence that Our Lord was raised as a carpenter’s son. Born into flesh, a worker of wood, a maker of doors, this One True Door does not shut all other doors, but rather, by the truth of his door, flings them open. By being in matter, and working in matter, He shows that matter matters. There is nothing in this cosmos which is not some door to God, nothing which cannot open up to afford some glimpse into his House. Even Hell itself, absolute alienation from God, cannot be entirely devoid of his light, for Christ has opened its doors, too. Heaven’s foundations are deep indeed. 

If we have passed through the outer doors, we will have no trouble recognising the great, Inner Door: and in it, hanging from the lock, we find the keys. Greater than the tent of the tabernacle in the days of Moses, Christ, as a new tent of flesh, spread so that His Body might encompass the whole world. This Body was the Church, and in it, he left the keys, making Peter keeper of the Door. Dante imagines the keys as gold and silver, one to loose and one to bind. Yet we might also imagine a keys of wood. I sometimes wonder whether Jesus, working as a carpenter in the days of the Roman Empire, ever made a cross. In any case, he died on the stuff of his craft. And there is the key, the wooden key, which can lock or open. The wood of the tree which brought knowledge and death to Adam. The wood of the boat which brought safety to Noah and left the world to drown. The wood of the altar on which Abraham offered his son. The wood on which a son of Adam died to give life to the world. The wood by which the Precious Blood opened the doors of Heaven and of Hell. 

Baptism and the Eucharist are the sacraments which Our Lord has given the Church as doors to His death on the Cross and Resurrection to eternal life. Penance is the means by which we look within, seek the Cross, and offer ourselves with Christ that we might truly find ourselves in Him; Absolution is that key entrusted to the Church to open the door. Yet it all comes from the divine desire to be Emmanuel, God with us, and God within us, from the Word made flesh in the Infant. This Christmas, let His love, that childish love which moves the stars and makes the cosmos sing, bind our will and our desires to His. 

The door to God is in the flesh of your heart. The whole Creation reverberates with His knocking. The key is inside the door. Go within, open it, and let the Christ-child enter in.