Saturday, December 8, 2012

The radical hospitality of waiting for Christ

This is the second Sunday of Advent in the church, which is sometimes hard to remember when the world around us starts frantically zeroing in on Christmas before we’ve pushed ourselves away from the Thanksgiving table. These days, more true than ever, when the Christmas decorations can be spotted at Walmart as the Halloween merchandise is pushed to the deep discount aisles, and retail workers are being required to forgo any semblance of a traditional Turkey holiday so that Black Friday can start on Thursday.

Advent is the season of waiting. A time of preparation in the spiritual sense when we reflect on the promise of the Messiah. That’s sometimes hard to do and gets lost in visions of sugar plums and this year’s Christmas sweater, holiday parties and list making and shopping. Waiting is hard.

Once upon a time, and not that long ago either, the Christmas tree wasn’t up in most homes until just before the actual day, in many cases, not revealed until Christmas Eve itself. We weren’t in such a hurry to have it all, NOW.

This week, the world is all a flutter because the Duke and Duchess, Will and Kate, are going to have a baby. Every news outlet, every magazine is agog with speculation about preparation for the royal heir to the throne. Well, I have news. Mary is having a baby, too. And her baby will be the heir to the greatest kingdom of all, God’s Kingdom. 

But he’s not here yet.

We are waiting.

The Prophets tell us, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me. In today’s Gospel, we hear about John in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance, crying “Prepare ye the way of the Lord.”

I am reminded of the concept of Radical Hospitality in the church, described as an active desire to invite, welcome, receive, and care for those who are strangers so that they find a spiritual home.  Radical describes that which is drastically different from ordinary practices, outside the normal, that which exceeds expectations and goes the second mile.

It strikes me that what John the Baptist is asking us to do, in this time of waiting, of preparation for the coming of Christ, is a form of radical hospitality. We are asked, not to make shopping lists or decorate, but to repent. To go through the mental and spiritual process of self assessment, to acknowledge our shortcomings and failings, to experience some contrition, to repent.

Because a visitor is coming.  Think of the hospitality we show when visitors are expected. Before the holiday guests arrive, we clean, right? Everything cleaned and polished, gleaming in preparation. John is asking no less of us in preparing the way of the Lord than a little radical hospitality.

Advent is a time to wait upon the birth of the Christ child. To pause, to reflect. To set aside a quiet time apart from the holiday frenzy, to take stock of our lives and do some personal housecleaning in preparation to receive the gift of our Lord.