by Rev. Dustin Bartlett
I’m not a big fan of housecleaning. I mean I try to keep the place picked up, but the deep cleaning – the sweeping and mopping and dusting and… toilet scrubbing? Pass.
Now before I get a lot of angry messages about how I need to help my poor wife with the household chores, let me clarify. It’s not that I don’t do my share of the housecleaning. I do housework when I have to. I just don’t enjoy doing it. Neither, for that matter, does my wife.
But there are times when my wife and I suck it up and do what needs to be done, cleaning-wise. And if we’re both in full-scale cleaning mode in our house, more often than not it’s because we are expecting some special guests. If friends are coming over, I’m willing to vacuum. If my in-laws are coming, I’ll scrub toilets. Together, we prepare our home for the arrival of guests.
If you’re part of a liturgical church, like the Roman Catholic or Lutheran or my own United Church of Christ, then you already know about Advent. For those of you who don’t celebrate Advent and want to know what’s up with the Advent wreath-and-candles in our churches and the Advent calendars in our homes, Advent is the season of reflection and preparation that precedes Christmas. In our churches, we read the story of John the Baptist, whose job was to “prepare the way” for Jesus.
That’s really what Advent is about. Much like cleaning our homes before the arrival of a special guest, Advent is the season for getting our spiritual house in order and making room for the arrival of Christ, so that He can reside in us. We heed the words of John the Baptist. We prepare the way.
But if you’ve ever hosted a family gathering for the holidays, you know that preparing for guests can be a lot of pressure. And if we feel this much anxiety over making sure there are clean sheets on the guest bed for Grandma, imagine how much anxiety comes with preparing for the arrival of Emmanuel – “God With Us.”
Well luckily for us, it doesn’t really matter. God just ends up sidestepping all our efforts at cleaning and arrives in one of the noisiest, messiest, smelliest places imaginable: in a stable full of livestock. And this is only the beginning of the story! Jesus will spend his whole life reaching out to beggars and lepers and all kinds of people society considered “unclean.” This may seem scandalous at first but, then again, what would you expect from a God who, at the beginning of the biblical story, formed human beings from the dirt and then breathed into us the breath of life?
Advent is a holy season. We ought to be spending time preparing for the arrival of guests, including God, instead of getting sucked into a month-long binge of consumerism and shopping. But the Good News at the heart of the gospel is that God can handle the messiness of our lives, even the messes we try to sweep under the rug before our guest takes notice.