Last year during the Christmas season, I was in the city for just over a week. On December 4th, I listened in to the service at my home church, connected through skype. Hearing the familiar words of the first advent reading brought back so many memories.
To make ready a people prepared for the Lord.
As the service continued, I too lit a purple candle, and turned off the ceiling light in my room.
Pastor prayed, thanking God for the miracle of Jesus’ incarnation,
That you would come not only to be our God, but to be intimately with us.
Partway through the service, I was overwhelmed by thoughts of all that needed to be done the next couple days before our team headed back to the village. The light from one candle was enough to show the mess all around, prompting me to jot this note on a piece of paper. “And I wish the room was cleaner. There are reasons it’s not.”
But just as quickly as those thoughts came, they were replaced by a sense of quietness, stillness – a moment of peace. What a blessing to worship God at the same time as my church family, in different places but connected through technology, singing the same songs and hearing the same words of Truth.
After a year, looking at the piece of paper used to take notes during that church service, I no longer remember if the following is something Pastor said, or a personal reflection.
Jesus, the light. He came not only into the darkness, but into the messiness, the busyness, the rush.
And isn’t that important to remember? Sometimes, my tendency is wanting everything to be perfect, neat, organized, and unhurried so that I can be ready for Jesus, with long periods of time to focus on Him, because everything else is done. Truth is, that’s a nice thought, but it rarely happens. Normally, it is a matter of putting aside a long to-do list, ignoring any messes around me, and allowing the peace of God to quiet my heart so I can focus on Jesus. This is my reality, as a child of God who loves Him and lives to serve Him, but can still get far too caught up in the rush and hurry and demands of life.
This also has implications for the darkness and messiness of sin, which affects every person in the world, no matter how organized their outward life may be. You see, we could never bring light into our own lives, or clean up the sin in our hearts. But the good news is that my sin and mess and incapability and not having it all together didn’t disqualify me from anything. On the contrary, the sin nature I was born with and my own sinful choices made me the perfect candidate for Jesus to come, showing that I needed Him, the Light of the World, the Prince of Peace. The darkness and dirtiness of your heart won’t keep Jesus from coming into your life either. Jesus doesn’t say, “If you clean yourself up and get rid of that darkness, I will come.”
Describing Jesus, the apostle John wrote,
In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not…He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name…And of his fulness have all we received, and grace for grace. For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ. John 1:4-5, 11-12, 16-17
Jesus shines. Jesus comes. Jesus gives. We are left with a choice: whether we will receive Jesus, or receive Him not. Will we continue living in darkness, or begin walking in the Light? Will we receive Him – the fulness of His grace and eternal life? Have you made the decision to receive this free gift?
A few days ago, on a Christmas episode* of Adventures in Odyssey, I heard an illustration which relates to the subject of Jesus coming in the midst of our reality, no matter how messy or disordered it is.
The following conversation takes place between Wooton Bassett, a delightful, bumbling, friendly, eccentric mailman who is attempting to decorate his yard for Christmas and Bart Rathbone, Wooton’s neighbor who thinks he is just plain crazy. Wooton’s young friend Colby is there also.
Bart: “This place is a disaster area. It looks like the junkyard had a garage sale. And what is that anyway?”
Wooton: “Oh, that’s my stable, but you know, it’s not done yet. I can get the 2 by 4s and traffic cones to stand up okay, but every time we try to move it or put decorations on, the whole thing collapses.”
Bart: “Decorations? What decorations? That thing ain’t covered with nothin’ but hubcaps, pop cans and oh…what is that?”
Colby: “It’s a roasting pan.”
Bart: “A roasting pan? And what does a roasting pan have to do with Christmas?”
Wooton: “Oh uh well you know, you see uh I’m using it to show that even though the world is uh you know full of sin and dirty car parts and…and roasting pans…well God still sent His Son to us in the middle of it cuz you know. He uh he loves us and stuff and that’s why we celebrate Christmas. Besides, won’t it look great when the lights are turned on?”
Although I suspect that Wooten hadn’t really thought through the meaning of his “decorations” ahead of time, and was just trying to come up with an explanation on the spot, his words really touched my heart. Okay, so maybe I’m almost as crazy as Odyssey’s favorite mailman, but please hear me out.
As implied above and pictured below, my apartment here at the mission base is not the most organized place you’ve ever seen. It is a “base” after all, to which I come only every couple months. That means a typical state of organizing, coming and going, trying to remember where I left things last trip, buying supplies to take to the village, and making notes of tasks that must not be forgotten. So piles, clutter, to-do lists, half-packed boxes and chaos are part of everyday city life.
Thankfully, at home in the village this is not the case. However, even there I’m not the world’s best housekeeper, and my adorable little thatched-roof house is never completely tidy and picture-perfect.
So stop reading for a minute and look around. What do you see? If it’s a picture-perfect, well-organized, Christmas-decorated, peaceful house, that’s wonderful, and I congratulate you. But please read on anyway, in case another day finds you surrounded by a different environment.
Perhaps, though, your sideways glance revealed dirty dishes in the sink, laundry to fold, toys scattered everywhere, half-finished projects, an unmade bed, dismantled electrical appliances, piles to sort, gifts to wrap. Well, then we’re in the same club, you and I.
Maybe the sounds around you would be better classified as commotion and hubbub than peace and tranquility. If so, don’t worry about it, because whatever the roasting pans, half-packed boxes, and hubcaps of your life, Jesus comes right into the middle of it all. It’s not about us having it “all together” so He can come.
Bethlehem sure didn’t have everything ready for Jesus that night. Most of the people there completely missed His coming. But God sent Jesus anyway, in the fullness of time, to a chaotic little town in the midst of a country seething with political unrest. And in that time of darkness and disorder, a few people went to the manger, met Jesus, and experienced a moment of heavenly peace in His presence, away from the commotion of the rest of the world.
Let’s not miss His coming today, friends. Even though He’s not here as a baby anymore, Jesus sent His Spirit back to this earth, and in that sense, He is here, Emmanuel, God with us, now and always. As the old carol says, “Let every heart prepare Him room.” It’s not about whether our houses and surroundings are perfect for Jesus to come. We just need to have a ready heart, open to Jesus. At any time we can meet with Him, delighting in a moment of heavenly peace in His presence, away from the commotion of the rest of the world.
* I would highly recommend listening to the whole episode. The part quoted above is absolutely when you can hear the actors’ personalities, and the story has a great message. Just go to the following website and click on the link for “The Popsicle Kid.” The episode will only be available there for about a week.