The Time to Make Room

 

traveling-to-bethlehem2In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3All went to their own towns to be registered. 4Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. 5He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. (Luke 2: 1-5)

And I remember that long journey to Bethlehem.  It was uncomfortable.  It was scary.  It was lonely.  We were traveling with others but it seemed to be just Joseph and me.  Perhaps it was because we were the only ones there that knew.  And, yet, we didn’t know.  We thought we would find appropriate lodging.  We thought that perhaps there would be a lovely older woman there that could talk me through the birth.  We imagined that we would have a place that was warm and comfortable.  But that was not to be.  The city had filled to capacity.  There was just no room.

I have always thought of that night and wondered if it was the way God intended.  Did God mean to come in virtually unnoticed through a back door of the world in the darkest of alleys?  What was the point if no one noticed?  Or was this God’s way of testing us to see if the world was open enough to receive the Christ?  I’m not usually in to believing that God tests us.  I think God came into the world just like we all do—as an innocent baby who needed to be held and loved and welcomed into the world.  But the world was moving much too fast as it often does.  The world was not prepared.  The world was not ready to change.

I now understand that God did not come because the world was ready.  God came because the world needed God.  God came because it was time.  The world needed to be saved not just from the evils surrounding it but from itself.  The world needed to be awakened.  The world needed to be reminded who it was.  So, into the darkest and most foreboding part of the world, God came.  And the baby that I held was indeed the very Saving Grace of the world.  The baby that I held that day was not the One who would make our lives easier or clean up our world.  He would not stop wars or stamp out poverty.  He would not bring us together as one world.  The baby that I held that night was the One that would show us the way to God and that on that journey, we would be called to bring Light into the darkness over and over again.

Lift up your heads, ye mighty gates; behold, the King of glory waits; the King of Kings is drawing near; the Savior of the world is here!

Fling wide the portals of your heart; make it a temple, set apart from earthly use for heaven’s employ, adorned with prayer and love and joy.

Redeemer come, with us abide; our hearts to thee we open wide; let us thy inner presence feel; thy grace and love in us reveal.

Thy Holy Spirit lead us on until our glorious goal is won; eternal praise, eternal fame be offered, Savior, to thy name! (George Weissel, 17th century; trans. By Catherine Winkworth, 1855)

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And not that [this] story is told, what does it mean?  How can I tell?  What does life mean?  If the meaning could be put into a sentence there would be no need of telling the story. (Henry Van Dyke)

FOR TODAY:  What do you need to change or re-arrange to make room for God coming into your life? (And given the hour, this is an EXCELLENT time to figure that out!)

Peace to you as we begin to see the Light coming into the world,

Shelli

Preparing the Way in the Midst of Our Clutter

Prepare the Way3He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, 4as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. 5Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; 6and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’” (Luke 3: 3-6)

 

So once again we encounter the wild wilderness man named John, the one who wears animal skins and eats locusts and honey (well, at least he has a condiment!) John is probably not the most pastoral one among us. He’s forthright and direct, pulling no punches. He doesn’t worry about making it easy for his hearers. His message? “Turn around, turn around NOW, get with the program…prepare the way of the Lord, do it NOW.” And there were at least some who listened, some who followed, and probably some who actually turned around.

 

We hear that we are to prepare the way all the time, particularly this time of year. And so we clean and we deck and we trim and decorate and we cook and we shop (and we shop and we shop and we shop) and we wrap and we open and we sing carols and we light candles and we assume that we have prepared the way. We do it all to prepare for the day, to prepare for the day when we celebrate the birth of Christ. OK, now are you sure that’s what John meant?

 

The truth is, we read this exhortation to prepare and we assume that we have to get busy, that it all depends on us. But where does it say that we have to build the road? We are promised a room (King James translators called it a mansion) that is just for us, a place in the Kingdom. Don’t you think the Way is already there? What preparation does the road need? Maybe the preparing that we are called to do is to clear the road that is already there, to clear the Way of the stuff that we have brought with us that now clutters the road. Our lives are so chock full of stuff and events and worries. Maybe our preparation is not about decorating or making the road presentable. Maybe it is rather about clearing a path on the road that is already there.

 

Maybe John, rather than asking us to build a way to a God that was already in our midst, was calling us to clear our pathway of everything that we have brought with us so that we can travel lightly, so that we can be nimble, so that we can be ready to change. Prepare the Way of the Lord. Make the pathway straight and clear. Do not clutter the way with meaningless thoughts and things but leave a pathway so that we can find our way home. THIS Advent, let us find our way home.

 

God is not attained by a process of addition to anything in the soul, but by a process of subtraction. (Meister Eckhart)

 

Grace and Peace,

 

Shelli

Drawing Near

Advent 13A voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. (Isaiah 40:3)

Tis the season! Do you believe it? It’s here—the turkey leftovers are in the refrigerator, the glass pumpkins are being packed away, and now we begin to drag out the Christmas decorations and enter into the mad scramble to get the perfect gifts before Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday, Extended Black Friday, and the Last Minute Tuesday Sale that ends at 12:05 where you can still ship your Christmas gifts for a mere $29.99 sales are gone.

Sad, really…I mean, intellectually, we know that this is not what Advent is, It’s the time of preparation, rather than decorating. It’s the time of self-reflection rather than gift-buying. It’s the time of looking for the coming of Christ rather than planning the perfect Christmas celebration. It’s a hard line. We want so badly to sing Christmas carols and buy presents and get them all wrapped so that we can enjoy our Christmas Eve and we forget that Christmas isn’t really here yet. What?!? (Because you see, Amazon.com, Target, Macy’s, and their myriad of brother and sister stores do not, as opposed to what it appears, tell us when Christmas comes.)

Christmas comes when it comes. Christ comes when Christ comes. God comes, well, really, all the time. God has drawn near. God is waiting for us to do the same. God is waiting for us to draw near to God. Have you ever thought that in our scramble to prepare for Christmas, we have missed the notion that God is here, that God calls us to draw near to God rather than vice versa? So what does it mean to “prepare the way”? After all, good grief, I’m dragging out all those decorations! The neighborhood Christmas lights are beginning to appear. And I’ve got a party planned for two weeks from today. (TWO WEEKS???? ARE YOU KIDDING???) Prepare the way of the Lord…

What if this Advent in the midst of decorations and presents and flurries of activities for which we are not ready, we prepared the way of the Lord? What if all the groceries you buy included an offering to the food bank nearest you? What if every dollar you spent on gifts was matched in a donation to a clothing bank or something like that? And what if rather than spending more money on decorations other than what you already own, you made a donation to the nearest homeless shelter? (I mean, do you NEED that last poinsettia or centerpiece?) What if this first candle you light is the beginning of you preparing the Way of the Lord?

God will come when God will come. But we are called to prepare the Way. What if the Way is already there, laid out for us to follow and this Advent is the time that we are called to follow it, the time to draw near?

The Advent mystery is the beginning of the end in all of us that is not yet Christ. (Thomas Merton)

This Act of Preparation

Moses at the Promised LandScripture Text: Malachi 3:1

See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight—indeed, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts.

Preparation…we keep talking about, keep touting this season as the one of preparation.  So, if it’s not about decorating and shopping and wrapping then what is this act of preparation that we are supposed to do?  Our culture tells us to be prepared for whatever may happen.  The Gospels tell stories warning us against being unprepared for what is to come.  And this season…this season of waiting is also laced with exhortations to get ready–for the coming of the Lord but, as hard as we try to ignore the culture closing in on us, for that big day ahead.  I mean what would happen if we awoke unprepared on Christmas morning–without the required number of gifts perfectly wrapped and under the tree, without all the luscious foods prepared, without a decorated house, and, most of all, without a ready heart prepared to receive our Lord.  Whew!  That’s a lot on our plates!  No wonder we’re stressed.  What, pray tell, are we supposed to be doing to get prepared?

 

For what exactly are we preparing?  Maybe that’s our whole problem.  We live lives that are so results-oriented that we don’t see life itself.  What if everything we did, every act we lived, every breath we breathed was not so that we could have a good result or count it as something done, but, rather, was part of who we are, part of the very journey itself?  What if it was our journey, our living, in which the Lord delighted, rather than merely the result it attained?

 

You know, I love Thanksgiving. It is the one family holiday that I can truly take the time to do right. Sure, I cook way too much food. And, this year, I probably spent more than twenty hours preparing for a 30 minute meal. I planned the menu. I put the leaves in the table. I planned what the table would look like. I drug out all of Aunt Doll’s china and Grandmother’s silver (you know, all that stuff that has to be hand washed!) I set the table. I arranged the centerpiece. I straightened the house and rearranged the back porch. I carefully picked out which bowl or which plate would hold which dish.   I chopped and I rolled and I mixed and I stirred and I cooked and I cooled. There were no shortcuts. Everything was made from scratch.   Because you see, for me, the preparation for the meal is for me as gratifying an experience as the meal itself.

 

And now as the Thanksgiving meal’s leftovers begin to wain,  we prepare for the next big thing.  But it’s hard to remember that act of preparation.  It’s hard to look upon it as a thing in and of itself rather than merely a way to the next thing.  And yet, the passage tells us that it is the messenger in whom the Lord delights.  It says nothing about where the messenger ends up or how many people the messenger gets to the end or whether or not the messenger did a good job.  God delights in the messenger; God delights in our acts of preparing the way.  Don’t you remember Moses standing on the edge of the Promised Land?  All of the journeying, all of the heartache, all of the wilderness wanderings, all of the frustrations with covenants and golden calves and burning bushes and parted waters…all of that…that whole journey to the one moment…when he looked at the Promised Land that he would never enter.  There are those that would look upon that as a failure, as if he had not completed his mission.

 

Then Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, which is opposite Jericho, and the Lord showed him the whole land: Gilead as far as Dan, all Naphtali, the land of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the Western Sea, the Negeb, and the Plain—that is, the valley of Jericho, the city of palm trees—as far as Zoar. The Lord said to him, “This is the land of which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, saying, ‘I will give it to your descendants’; I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not cross over there.” (Deuteronomy 34: 1-4)

 

But Moses did exactly what he was supposed to do:  he prepared the way.  That is what we are called to do.  Results are great but it is the way, the journey, the preparation that teaches us, that gives us life.  Our salvation does not come in one moment because we’ve done all the things we’re supposed to do but rather in a lifetime of preparing the way for God, making our way toward a promised land that we may or may not enter.  Advent is not about the results; it is about what we become on the way there.  God calls us to a journey of preparation–preparing our hearts, preparing the way, being open to that act of preparation to which we’re called.  Advent ends on Christmas morning.  Whether or not we are fully prepared is probably of lesser importance than the journey that we had to the moment when we looked over and saw the promised land, when we knew in the very depth of our being that God was in our midst.

 

Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land. And I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord. (From “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop”, a speech by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., April 3, 1968. Dr. King was assassinated the next day.)

 

FOR TODAY:  Look at your journey.  Look at your preparation.  Live it.  God is there.  You may get there and you may not, but, oh, what a ride!  Live a life of holy preparation because the Promised Land is already prepared for you.

 

Grace and Peace,

Shelli