How's your Christmas list coming along? Whether it's a dinner (expensive and unique groceries), a performance (memorization of notes and lines) or a gift giving (how well do you really know your friends and family's desires and tastes...), the holidays can be a time of intense preparation and pressure. We are making ready for Christmas, and it's only the beginning of December.
But once again, the unsettling song of Advent sounds a note of discord in the midst of our busyness and our preparations. "Our" preparations for Christmas have little to do with God's preparations, and his desires for us as the eve and the celebration of the Saviour draws near.
Advent peers quietly over our shoulder as we work through our lists and ring up our purchases, and nudges us to consider crossing ourselves off the list instead.
What if we spent as much time and forethought making space for the miraculous and healing presence of God in our lives as we spend focusing on filling up the fridge and stuffing the stockings?
I often find myself in busy places at quiet times. And sometimes when I look around at the massive empty great hall of a train station, or the wide exit passageways of a stadium, or the vacant seats in a lecture hall, I think, "What a waste of space!" But soon enough, every inch of floor and chair is filled with a sudden crush of people at rush hour, at class time, hurrying home after the game. If there were any other objects filling that space, or other activities taking over those concourses and classrooms, chaos would ensue. If those vast empty spaces were cluttered up, they would be utterly useless.
This Advent call to preparation requires courage, and a truly difficult emptying and readying in the hallways of our hearts. It's a painful and risky act. Nobody likes to feel empty. Very few of us revel in feeling unprepared or uncertain of the outcome. The fear of making grand, expensive and arduous preparations for a fancy dinner party and having no one show up, or the financial sacrifice of keeping an empty guest room open, furnished and tidy in this space hungry city, or waiting patiently for divine help or the assistance of your community or friends instead of taking matters into your own hands are just some of the types of preparation we are uncomfortable with.
Much, much easier to prepare for one's own success and action, the things within our control and ability to do. But the call from the wilderness, from that holy, barren place where the spaces are wide open and wild is not "Prepare the way for yourself and your accomplishments." It's "Prepare the way for the Lord." (Mark 1:3)
Prepare the way for Someone else to transform your life. Prepare the way for a miracle that you cannot achieve through better and more organized scheduling and budgeting. Prepare the way: clear out the crap, delete all those extra apps, and sit humbly in the empty, echoing passages of your life. Wait patiently with your blank page for the Spirit of God to come rushing in to all those spaces, writing the words of true accomplishment, filling your life with Christ himself. This is the holy, terrifying and thrilling preparation that Advent speaks of: to make room not for our own achievements, but for God's initiative and saving action in our lives. To get out of the way, surrender, and make way for the only One who can truly fill our hearts and lives and rescue us from our useless and endless lists.