One of the things I love about Christmas is that seasonal anticipation increases along with seasonal preparation. We pull out the lights and the tree and we decorate our homes for the season. We bake the goodies reserved for this time of year. We buy gifts for family and friends as a special display of love. And we get serious about some extra cleaning. Or at least we do at my house. It’s my way of preparing to welcome the people who will come into my home during the season.
When I was young, I found the added cleaning Christmas brought, odd. Who on earth, I wondered, would come to our house caught up in the joy of the season and ask to see my room? But even if they did, surely they wouldn’t ask to inspect my closet, my sock drawer, or under my bed—would they? And if they were bold enough to do even that, could what they’d see perhaps serve to remind them what curiosity did to the cat? (It’s not like opening my closet doors would have killed them, but it might have given them a good scare!)
Because I didn’t understand my mom’s desire to have all the places cleaned for all the people, I protested and I procrastinated. I’d try to take the focus off of myself and what I’d been asked to do and put it on ‘the people’. I’d throw out veiled innuendos about the kind of people who would inspect hidden places and make judgments about what they found—are these the kind of people we want in our home? My mom was not scared of such people and would counter my claims with veiled innuendos of her own. She would, at times, bolster her case by referring to Bible passages which warned God’s people to be prepared at all times for an unexpected coming and judgement by having their houses swept clean.
As the sort who wrestled out theological questions in my head from a young age, I wondered if Jesus wouldn’t be more concerned with the state of my heart than the state of my closet should he return, and I may have countered mom along these lines, but she had a way of raising her eyebrows in such a way as to suggest that one can never be too sure about these things. So, though my siblings and I protested, it was not an argument we won.
Christmas was coming and we would work in advance of its coming to be prepared.
Being older and wiser, I see the wisdom of mom’s ways and I now attempt to follow them. Were I to do so closely, I wouldn’t know the feeling of breaking into a cold sweat during last minute preparations after the company has arrived, trying to appear calm and maintain social niceties, while desperately wondering how I’ll wrangle the serving dish I need out of a cupboard that could give us all a good scare when I open it.
The work we do to prepare for the coming of Christmas reveals both our priorities and our awareness of time.
We know Christmas comes on December 25th every year, so we prioritize our tasks in advance to prepare for its coming. We begin with what’s most important and then move down the list. Christmas baking and shopping comes before organizing the sock drawer. But if you have time for that, too, how fun it is to welcome new Christmas socks into their forever home which is devoid of holey misfits!
Wherever you are on the scale between laid back and ready for anything, I’ll bet that, like me, you’ve got a to-do list this Advent season. You’ve got things you want to get done as you prepare for Christmas. And you’ve probably also figured out that this isn’t the blog to turn to for tips on how to tackle the list and get on with spectacular holiday entertaining. This blog is more about heart-cleaning than house-cleaning.
All our preparation for the sure coming of Christmas, points us towards another coming that is just as sure.
Christ coming into the world at Christmas, ensures His coming again.
In Luke 1:17 we hear the angel Gabriel announce the birth of a boy born to make ready for the Lord a people prepared. Just like God prepared people in advance of Jesus being born, He wants people to prepare before He comes again. Jesus taught about His second coming saying that since no one knows the day or the hour He will return, be ready. To illustrate His point, He told a story about a wedding.
In Jesus’ place and time, the bridegroom’s family and friends would prepare at his house while the bride’s family and friends would prepare at her’s. They’d bridge the gap of waiting in their respective places until the bridegroom was ready. Then he would take his people with him and go to the home of his waiting bride for the ceremony. When that was done, everyone would be invited to follow the groom back to his house for the wedding celebration. All of this would often happen at night.
In Matthew 25, Jesus said the kingdom of heaven was like this wedding. The groom would eagerly leave his house to get his bride so that he could take her into his family. He’d go in anticipation, hoping that in her eagerness to be joined to him, she would have prepared in advance and be ready for his coming. But in the story Jesus tells, some of the people waiting with the bride didn’t do the advance work of preparation. They procrastinated. Maybe they protested. They prioritized, and wedding preparations didn’t make the top of the list. Assuming they could prevail upon the preparedness of others in the room, they let sleep overtake them as they waited.
When the sound of the coming groom woke them up, it was with the terrible knowledge that they weren’t ready and had run out of time. Their misplaced priorities and lack of preparation would cause them to miss the celebration, while those who’d prepared in advance for the groom, followed him to the celebration he’d prepared in his home for them. The door shut behind them never to be opened again. (You can read this teaching and illustration in Matthew 24:36-25:13)
My mom was wise in teaching me to use the time before the coming of Christmas to prepare for it. She knew that if I did the work ahead of time, I’d be able to enjoy my company when they arrived instead of anxiously wishing I’d had just a little bit more time.
As we prepare to celebrate Jesus’ first coming, let’s also prepare in anticipation of His second. He has been gracious and merciful in giving us the time, so let’s use it. The One who came into the world as a baby is coming back as its King, and the best way to prepare for this, is to open yourself up to a third coming: His coming into your heart.
Advent can be a time of heart cleaning just like it can be a time of house cleaning. Let Jesus come in and clean up. It’s the only way a bunch of unholy misfits can be welcomed into His eternal home.