Making Room for the Sacred Things
I left home when I graduated from high school and made the trek to Abilene to attend Abilene Christian University. It is a long way from Marianna, Florida; too far to go home at Thanksgiving that first year, so it was Christmas break before I could make the trip back to see my family. I can still remember the excitement as a friend and I began the 19-hour journey in his car, which only made it about 4 of those 19 hours before breaking down in a small Texas town. That is a story in itself for a later day. Suffice it to say it was cold, and we were both broke and hungry as we made the now longer trip home. My family was even more disappointed than I as they discovered we would be much later than anticipated. But the welcome would be all the sweeter. It was always this way when I came home: the family would all be watching and come out to welcome me, favorite foods would be prepared and waiting to be served; but this first one was the happiest, I think. There is something special about people preparing for your visit, waiting expectantly for you to come and then pulling out all the stops to make your coming welcome.
Much of the Christian world is in the throes of the Advent season. So what is Advent? The word simply means “coming” and is from the Latin word, adventus. It is a season in the life of the church. In fact, it is the beginning of the church’s year, marked by preparation and celebration of the coming of Jesus into the world. It is a time of expectant waiting. It gives us a chance to reach back through the years, joining in the eager anticipation of the coming of the Messiah, while also reaching forward and longingly awaiting the return of that same Messiah. It involves recognition that we are living somewhere in between those two comings and reminds us of our need to do that living well.
So, how do we prepare during this time of Advent?
I think it is largely about making room. To this day, when I go home to visit my parents there is preparation for my arrival. Part of that preparation involves some rearranging in order for there to be room for me in their house. Some things are cleaned out and maybe even gotten rid of.
If I want to welcome God into my space, I have to make room for him. I can’t have every nook and cranny crammed full of my stuff. I need to sift through my closet, as it were, and do a little housecleaning. Things inside need to be removed because they aren’t helpful for me or anyone else. You know what those look like on your closet shelf; things that can’t share space with the sacred.
And then there are some good things in the closet that can keep you too busy for THE good thing. So, maybe part of getting ready for God to come into our world is a little cleaning up of our lives. As we enter this time of Advent and long for his arrival into our hearts, we need to make room.
When we make room for God in our lives, we find out we have to make room for the kinds of things that God makes room for, and the kinds of people God makes room for. What is it that God cares about?
I suppose the most obvious answer is love. Love is synonymous with God. We don’t have to look far and wide in Scripture to find that truth. It overflows with descriptions of his love: words like unfailing, great, abounding in love, enduring forever, showing love to a thousand generations, strong, filling the earth. Nor do we have to search and decode God’s commands for us regarding love for our fellow man. Jesus is plain when he answers the question about that with the words we all know so well: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength, and the second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself. Not much room for wondering with that kind of straight talk -- except maybe what love looks like and how we can best do it. We can read words like those found in 1 Corinthians 13, and know what it looks like. We just need to practice doing it. We need to make room in our lives for the action love requires of us.
The Old Testament prophet, Micah brings this message to God’s people: “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”
And Amos’ words still ring in our ears today as well, “Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!”
Acting justly is a demonstration of love. God says it is good. Better than songs of praise. Justice is acting fairly, treating all people equally. We use the expression, “do justice to” which is defined as appreciating something or someone properly and reflecting or expressing the worth of something or someone properly. Properly expressing the worth of someone. I can certainly think of times and ways I have not done that.
We are called to make room for God, for the things of God such as love and justice and mercy, and for the people of God. All of his people. Not just the people we like and enjoy. Not just the people who are rich and important. Not just the people who look like us. These words are found in Hebrews 13:1-3: “Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.”
The people of God are strangers and prisoners and those who are mistreated, made fun of, discriminated against. And we are to remember and welcome them as if we were suffering ourselves. That is how we love as we love ourselves. That kind of love doesn’t allow us to just walk on by. If we feel their suffering, we are moved to action. It requires the time-consuming, selfless, messy act of welcoming people into our lives and our space.
This advent season, as you make room for the coming of God into the world, make room for God’s things -- love and justice and mercy -- and for God’s people. Enter into the suffering of the world, just as he did.