It seems that we spend our lives waiting, don’t we? As children, we wait anxiously to turn 16, or 18, or 21, looking forward to getting a car, the right to vote, the freedom to determine our own destiny. As parents, we wait for our kids to grow out of the frustrating phase that is currently causing our hair to turn gray. As young adults, we wait to meet the person we can share our lives with. As employees, we wait for our big break, the next promotion, the next raise. As spiritual beings, we wait for healing, for insight, for direction, for presence. I don’t know if I can remember a time in my life when I wasn’t waiting for something. And now it is Advent, and we await the coming of the Christ child. And yet, the Christ child is already here, living and moving among us, his presence manifest all around us. What are we waiting for? Perhaps it is God who is waiting for us. Perhaps it is we who are not yet ready to enter into the stable and present ourselves at the manger of the King. What is holding us back?
It seems to me that Christmas requires something of us, something more than a child-like hovering around the Christmas tree, waiting to see what Santa will bring us this year. I think God desires that we come rushing to meet the Christ, not because we can’t wait to get to the presents, but because we are eager to be in God’s presence, to enter into the kingdom, to participate in the light that came down at Christmas. Perhaps it is the realization of what that really means that holds us back from our journey to the manger. Are we ready for kingdom living? Have we cleared away the clutter, created space and time, let go of ego and self-serving behaviors, brought our thoughts to things of the spirit rather than worrying about where to find the perfect wrapping paper or Christmas cards? Somewhere in between the frantic shopping, the hunt for the artificial 6-foot pre-lit Norwegian fir, and the creation of adorable snowmen placemats, we need to pause long enough to remember that God’s gift of the Christ child was so much bigger than all our manic preparations.
A wise man once asked a group of seekers during Lent, “What needs to be emptied within you to prepare an empty tomb for Jesus?” I think this question is just as important during Advent. What is the debris that is piled up in the stable of our souls, needing to be cleared away to make room for the Christ child? Penitential periods such as Lent and Advent ask us to engage in self-reflection and self-emptying, a process called kenosis. Just like a rigorous spring cleaning in which the contents of your closets are purged of all unneeded possessions and clutter, our souls need to go through this ritual periodically as well. Perhaps the Bethlehem innkeeper would have had room for Mary and Joseph if he had cleared out his storage room every once in a while! I know that I am guilty of judging this frazzled and harried man for turning away a pregnant woman and her husband, yet my own preoccupations during this time of year amount to the same thing. I know that I need to get ready, that my busyness needs to give way to preparation. Unlike the innkeeper, I know ahead of time that the Holy One is coming, not just to my doorstep, but to every doorstep. This is the challenge and the blessing of Advent. “Let every heart prepare him room.” Christ is coming.