Thursday, December 3, 2009

Ready or Not

In the season of Advent, during these four weeks leading up to Christmas, we talk a lot about preparing for the arrival of Jesus. You may sometimes feel scolded a bit by preachers like me who love to harp on all the stuff we become pre-occupied with during the month of December, stuff that so fills our lives that Jesus is squeezed out of our celebration by shopping and baking and decorating and sending cards and all the other stuff that fills our days leading up to Christmas. Despite your best intentions, you know it’s true. You’ve been caught once again in the web of consumerism and all the stuff you gotta do that accompanies this season.

There was no room in the inn, we read in the Christmas story. In one of Luther’s Christmas sermons he pokes fun at his congregation for when they heard no one in Bethlehem welcomed the holy family into their home they said, “We would have taken them in. If Mary and Joseph had knocked on our door, we would have taken them in. We gladly would have given the baby Jesus our own bed.” Luther comes back with, “Yeah, sure, of course you would have taken them in. That’s because you know who they were!” I’m not sure if Luther had it right there. For, today, we’re people who know who Jesus was, and yet we still fail to make room for him in our lives.

Are you feeling guilty yet? Well, here’s the thing. And it’s amazing. It’s not just good news. It’s the best possible news of all. In Jesus, God came to live with us. Yeah, there was no room in the inn. But he came to live with us anyway. He didn’t wait until the world was ready for him, because the world would never be ready for him. He doesn’t wait until we’re ready for him, because we’ll never be ready.

God doesn’t wait while we sequester ourselves in a monastery somewhere where we can only think holy thoughts about him, with no distractions, and then come to us. The whole point is that God came to the world. With all its messiness. With all its imperfections. With all its distractions. God comes to us.

As a pastor, I’ll often call our homebound members and invite myself over for a visit. And sometimes I’ll get a reply that goes like this: “Oh, pastor, I’d love to have you come, but my house is a mess right now.” And I’ll always come back with, “That’s okay. I don’t care how your house looks. I’m not coming to see your house, I’m coming to see you.” Sometimes they’ll be convinced by that, but usually they will insist that I come some other time, and I respect their wishes.

Well, guess what! God has invited himself to your place. And it doesn’t matter if your house is in order or not, he’s coming. He’s not going to wait for just the right circumstances. He doesn’t care if you’re ready to receive him. He doesn’t care if he has your full attention. He doesn’t care if you’ve invited him. He doesn’t care if you have room for him. He’s moving in with you and there’s nothing you can do to stop him.

You see, God knows that we need his presence in our lives. Not despite the messiness and the distractions in our lives, but precisely because of the messiness and the distractions in our lives. We need God to come and make his home with us. Not when we’re ready, but without delay.

Barbara Brown Taylor sums the Christmas story up this way: “It was God-with-us. Not the God-up-there somewhere who answers our prayers by lifting us out of our lives, but the God who comes to us in the midst of our lives – however far from home we are, however less than ideal our circumstances, however much or little our lives reflect the Christmas cards we send. That is where God is born, just there in any cradle we will offer him, on any pile of straw we will pat together with our hands… God comes to us. Right here, right into our own Bethlehem, bringing us the God who has decided to make his home in our arms.”