It is the beginning of the season of Advent for the church. Advent, and the season of Christmas which follows it, are a magical, almost mystical, time for the church. Even in the secular world, “there’s a song in the air,” but in the church this is truly a time filled with wonder and beauty.
At Immanuel Church, we have just enjoyed a fabulous Thanksgiving Feast. The carillons in the steeple are playing beautiful Christmas carols. The choir is preparing an amazing Christmas cantata. The children are preparing a heart-warming Christmas program. And on Christmas Eve, we will light candles of hope, peace, joy, and love as we recall once again the birth of the Prince of Peace.
In the church, Advent is so much more than a time for shopping and decorating. It’s a time for preparing our hearts to be ready for the coming of Jesus, and Jesus does come to us in many different ways. The problem for most of us is that we’re not very good at either recognizing or welcoming Jesus. For Jesus comes to us as one who is a stranger, as one who is poor, hungry, or thirsty. And most of the time we are either too busy to notice him, or we reject him.
In Matthew 25:42, Jesus says to us, “for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me.” In John 1:10-11, we are told that “He was in the world, and the world came into being through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own home, and his own people did not accept him.” In Luke 2:7, we are told that Mary “gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.”
As we prepare our hearts to receive Jesus this Advent season, we could ask ourselves, “Who are the ones in our world today for whom there is no place in the inn?’ The refugees and asylum-seekers who are camped out at the border with Mexico? The poor and homeless persons who live under bridges in our cities? Persons who are addicted to drugs or alcohol? Those who suffer from mental illness, loneliness, or depression?
Just as in the story from Luke 2, the Messiah comes to us just as he came to the Bethlehem innkeeper. Not in the form of a King with his entire splendor, but in the form of people in need--like Mary and Joseph. And whether or not we let Christ in depends on how we respond to these people.
The innkeeper claimed that he had no room. Isn't the crowded inn a rather appropriate symbol of our lives? So cluttered (not with important things but with things that don't amount to a hill of beans) that there is just no time, no energy, no money, no room left over. There is just no room in our lives for Jesus.
And invariably, just as in Bethlehem, the Messiah comes to us when we so often least expect him. You'll notice that Mary and Joseph did not make their appearance at the beginning of the rush season but late in the night when the poor innkeeper was tired and irritable after a hard day’s work. Then comes the knock on the door…the unexpected knock of destiny.
So Advent is a time to watch and wait. Keep our minds and our hearts open for his coming. For the hour approaches when the Messiah will come to you and to me. And like the Bethlehem innkeeper we will be forced to make a decision. Will our lives be so cluttered with incidentals that there will be no room for God? Or will we open the door and gladly welcome God in. To the innkeeper, the knock that came that night was just another of a long series of bothersome interruptions. That is how some respond to God in their life. Yes. Take the stable! Do anything; just leave me alone. God knocks at the door of every person. The question is -- will there be room enough in your life to let God in?
Blessings and Peace,