For the past several weeks of Advent, we have been getting things ready. We’ve been cleaning out the temple within us. We’ve been helping others clean up their rooms as well as the spaces that surround us. We’ve been getting all the decorations ready, making the place look festive for the guest to come. And now comes the homecoming, as we wait on the threshold. We listen for the bell to ring, the door to be knocked. We turn our ear to listen for the sound of footsteps crunching up the sidewalk or the driveway. We wait for the guest to come to our home.
As we stand on the threshold, we have a tendency to look back and see how it has been before. Some years we have stood here and reveled in great pageantry, singing, dancing, joining together with many others at the door. Other years we have kept silent, a lone vigil anticipating the coming guest. Often we compare years, one to another, thinking some better than others because of how they made us feel, how prepared we thought ourselves to be.
As we look at our Old Testament lesson today from 2 Samuel, we find David felt less than prepared. The newly crowned king of Israel and Judah looked around and realized he lived in great palace of cedar, one customary for kings of that day and age, and God lived in the same old tent, God had been living in since Egypt. David wanted to build a home for God, a great palace on a shining hill. He asked Nathan the prophet about this and Nathan said, sure, go ahead. Everything you do seems to be blessed by God. If you want to build a great temple for God like all the other kings in this region do when they come into power, go ahead.
But that’s not what God wanted. God wanted his home with the people, wandering the landscape alongside the people, going where they went, living where they lived. And when Nathan went back to his home, God told him as much,
I haven’t lived in a temple from the day I brought Israel out of Egypt until now. Instead, I have been traveling around in a tent and in a dwelling. Throughout my traveling around with the Israelites, did I ever ask any of Israel’s tribal leaders I appointed to shepherd my people: Why haven’t you built me a cedar temple?
He told Mary as much, too. He sends the angel Gabriel to her with a message: God is coming to the world. And I’ll be coming as the son you don’t yet know you’re having. “Rejoice, favored one! The Lord is with you!” In this case, with becomes a bit literal. The Holy Spirit was to overshadow her with the power of God, making way for the child to be born a holy one. This would be a houseguest for the ages, a divine visitor that she would raise as her own, her firstborn son. This houseguest would transform everything about her life and legacy. Mary would come to be honored throughout the ages as the mother of Jesus, the woman who gave birth to the anointed one who brings life, healing, and wholeness to the world.
I think the story, the Christmas narrative, is a story of waiting to open the door for the ultimate houseguest. It is a way of teaching us to prepare ourselves to be open to the Spirit of God and ready to welcome in the transformative power of God in our lives. God wants his home in our home. God wants to stand in the doorways of the living rooms and kitchens and playrooms and bedrooms of your life. God calls to us through the Christmas story, the birth narratives of Jesus and says, “Greetings, favored ones! I’m coming home, to your home for Christmas. Do you have a place for me in your crowded, busy lives? Is there any room for me between work, family, play, etc.?”
“And like any baby born in our midst, he says, “I won’t take up much room, just all that you have. Is there room for me? I’m coming home.” And off to the side, almost out of our vision, an angel waits for our answer.”
And what is that answer? For many people the answer is nothing. They will go about the Christmas season, doing all the holiday things they normally do. They will get busy wrapping presents, making holiday treats, getting together the family feasts and simply clean it all away once the holiday is over. Life goes back to normal and nothing is any different on December 26th, 27th, 31st or any other day after.
For others there will be the twinge of something extraordinary. They will not just go about the business of preparation, commencement, and execution of holiday plan number 122272. They will find an experience of grace, of peace, of transformation. They will open the door and welcome over the threshold the divine guest and revel in the Spirit’s company. They will find themselves transformed by the story. Even though it has been told so many times, they will—unlike many— hear it as it was meant to be heard, as an invitation to open their heart’s door and allow God into their lives in a new and different way this year.
The question is, which kind of person will you choose to be? Will this be just another year, just another holiday, another dinner, another batch of presents forgotten by January? Or will this be a year of transformation, a year of change? Will this be an opportunity to move past the ruts and ordinariness to something beautiful, wonderful, and life changing?