“Prepare Him room”
When we can go to church every week, we get lots of time—four weeks—to make an “Advent journey.” Each year, at least in the Episcopal Church, we begin a four-week preparation for the coming of the Christ Child. We start Advent with John the Baptizer, in the wilderness, pointing to the One who is coming and proclaiming, “Prepare ye the way of the Lord.” And, in our holiest of years, we diligently prepare room in our lives and in our hearts to receive God anew.
Of course, here at The Fountains, today we have all four weeks of Advent packed into one service. And to tell you the bold truth, I was tempted to skip right over Advent today and go directly to Christmas. After all, Christmas is only two days away, and by the time we worship here again we will be deep into the season of Epiphany.
But I decided against skipping Advent, simply because we need to prepare for Christ’s coming into our world. We need to make room each year for the Christ Child, if for no other reason than to rekindle our hope.
So how do we make room for God coming among us? As we “prepare the way of the Lord,” first we stare at the piles of despair that may have accumulated all about us. At first we may think that the despair is insurmountable. A person I met this week who was drawn to my collar told me all about the despair in his world, those far off and those near: famine, war, school shootings, racial injustice, greed, foreclosure, economic ruin. Your list may be different, but you can name any of the despairs which assault us daily, if not in our own lives, in the news of other lives around us.
I like to think of this mountain of despair as a mound of straw, all thrown into a stable. Our job today and every day is to make some of the straw into a broom and to begin sweeping out the stable to make room for the Christ Child who soon will be born anew into our world. We need to spread some of the straw for animals to lie on. We need to bundle some bales for shepherds to kneel at. We need to put some in the manger—the feeding trough—for the baby to be placed, where he will become food for the whole world.
Why do we need to do this, to get up close and personal with our despair? Because God uses our disappointments in life to move us to a place of engaging the holy one. If we did not have disappointments in life, we wouldn’t even be in the stable with the mountain of straw, we would be in the house. And when the God-parents of the Christ Child come a-knocking, we would send them away and let the Christ Child pass us on by.
Because, you see, God places his hope for us and for our world into the straw, onto the manger.
I’m reminded of a story I heard recently about some five-year-olds after the devastating earthquake in Haiti. Someone asked the child, “Where is God in all this?” and the child replied, “God is in the rubble.”
God is in the rubble and God is in the straw.
In our gospel lesson today, though, God is not yet come among us in the flesh. Instead, God has sent his messenger, the angel Gabriel, to tell a young teenager in an insignificant town in Palestine, that she would miraculously become pregnant with God himself and would bear the God-child into life in our world.
Scripture tells us that Mary was afraid and perplexed. She was afraid, no doubt, because we don’t get visited by angels very often, at least not ones we recognize. But when God’s messengers so obviously come a-calling, God wants something big of us, something that will take us far out of our comfort zone, something that will take us from the house all the way to the stable to tackle that mountain of despair there. Mary was perplexed because the angel’s message didn’t make sense to her. God, born into the world in human flesh? God, born through her, and not in the usual way! Who was she to mother the Christ Child?
Mary’s story is so highly memorable, though, because of her response. “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Isn’t this the right answer for all of our fears, when God has given us something big to do? Isn’t this the right answer when we are perplexed, because what God has asked of us makes no sense?
Now maybe you are thinking, we know this story, Jo. We read this story every year and have done so all of our lives. We even sing this story. Well, I’m here today to tell you that the Christ Child is coming. Now is the time to ready the stable, to move the straw in accordance with the angels’ instructions. Start sweeping. Start bundling. Make ready the space. Don’t tell me you are too old to go running after a baby. The baby is coming to us, not the other way around. Get ready. Prepare him room.