The story of Advent approached me in October this year. It was a little early, I thought, at the time. I flew from Colorado to South Carolina to be in a college friend’s wedding during the same week Hurricane Matthew was doing his damage up the east coast. When I transplanted to Colorado back in January, ‘they’ (i.e. the few Denver natives you know) told me the weather out west is always unpredictable, so I’ve since managed to ignore all weather forecasts, everywhere. A few friends’ text messages of, “I hope you stay safe out there,” put me a little on edge before my trip, but not enough to reconsider flying to a city more inland in The Palmetto State. In some self proclaimed bravery I headed east to celebrate a sweet union of love in Lexington.
On the eve before the big day, the bridesmaids tagged along with the bride and her family to attend a church service. Whether it was the threat of continued bad weather or simply the excuse of it, we were about the only people in attendance. We took up 2 rows of seats near the back and we all softly smirked when the pastor thanked our group for showing up. I’ll be honest, I first thought, “Well, I didn’t have much of a choice in the day’s events” and then followed the thought with, “I think we’ve been left behind…”
Jokes aside, though, the pastor gave me a quick taste of Advent that night. In an introductory story to his sermon, he spoke about the birth of Jesus in Luke 2
“…And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.”
As he retold the story I felt like I could have stood up and recited Luke 2 in all its glorious prose as if I was back in my elementary school’s Christmas Program. A historical account I’ve heard over a hundred times was taking me back to when I wore robes and sandals as my classmates and I recited verses. As is apparent, I was caught up in some sentimental daydreaming until he stalled at the innkeeper, a character in the story I tend to dismiss rather quickly. The innkeeper is not exactly a starring role in the play, though perhaps a significant one for us to consider.
The pastor acknowledged how the innkeeper offered a small portion of what he owned (likely outback and out of sight), because he had no other space for Mary and Joseph to welcome in the Savior of the world. I would much prefer to relate to the angels and shepherds, but I was reminded how similar I can be to the innkeeper in the midst of the hustle and bustle of life’s seemingly pressing needs intertwined with my own little agendas. Often after some self-induced distress, I will then go to the small space my heart has reserved for him when all other pursuits or people fail me. At other times I’ve numbed myself to the raw–and perhaps painful–emotions it may require to recognize the sacrifice Christ made for sinners in his coming to live among us. Sadly, this emotional neglect can diminish the magnitude of celebratory joy his arrival causes. It can be denial, ignorance, frustration, pride, or apathy that keep me from receiving Jesus–the Savior who makes all the emptiness my heart has chosen to claim overflow with his eternal love alone.
Like the innkeeper, I’m given the choice to open all of myself to His arrival or offer just a little. I have the freedom to decide, but it must not be forgotten that in complete humility he lowers himself and comes. He is even willing to arrive in the confines of a manger, though he desires to mean much more to me than the spaces I reserve for him. It is not a matter of a bigger space, but receiving him in all the spaces: the healed, numb, bright, broken, and grieving spaces. He came to abide in all of them.
“Look up, you whose gaze is fixed on this earth, who are spellbound by the little events and changes on the face of the earth. Look up to these words, you who have turned away from heaven disappointed. Look up, you whose eyes are heavy with tears and who are heavy and who are crying over the fact that the earth has gracelessly torn us away. Look up, you who, burdened with guilt, cannot lift your eyes. Look up, your redemption is drawing near. Something different from what you see daily will happen. Just be aware, be watchful, wait just another short moment. Wait and something quite new will break over you: God will come.”
In my own despondency I find it requires a humbled heart to gladly receive the eternal King who walked among us, gave all of himself, and forever satisfies. No matter what time of year it is, this invitation is always extended to us: in our guilt, in our suffering, in the midst of distractions, in waiting, and in the happy times of life too. He invites us to partake of the better portion (Lk. 10:42) by delighting in his presence instead of ushering him aside as we run around, act busy, and make our plans. The magnitude of the story cannot be told without Christ’s sacrificial love on the cross and his triumphal victory over death in his resurrection, but his coming to us is always and forever worthy of joyful celebration.
Oh, come, our Dayspring from on high,
And cheer us by your drawing nigh,
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel!