W hen I was a child, Christmas never came quickly enough. I was convinced that December was longer than any other month by a mile. The wait between the doors on my chocolate Advent calendar was painstaking. A small grandfather clock sat on the mantle above the stockings in our living room, and on Christmas Eve, its hands all but stopped.
These days, however, time seems to accelerate through the year. Now, the four weeks of Advent whiz by, and I’m caught off guard by their swift culmination in Christmas. I even get to Advent feeling unprepared. I recognize the irony here; Advent, after all, is the season set aside precisely to prepare for the birth of Christ. But sometimes I feel the need to prepare to prepare—to get myself properly situated in order to experience the real Advent waiting in full. Come Day 1, I should already be seated comfortably by a crackling fire, cup of peppermint tea in hand, plans to maximize hope and peace and love and joy fully sketched and at the ready.
But in the story arc of Christ, nothing happened when people were ready: The labor pains came when the young couple was on the road, several days’ journey from home. Lazarus had already been dead and buried four days by the time Jesus rolled into town. Jesus’s speech on a hilltop went long—well past dinnertime—and the crowd grew hungry. His crucified body had vanished when the time to anoint it came. Instead, that very body stood up and walked out of the grave. He shook the ground and tore the veil and bedazzled everyone he appeared to, even though not a single one had a spot on the calendar set aside and labeled time to be bedazzled.
Indeed, he just showed up here one day—the very day, in fact, when all was to be put in order, when every head was to be counted and tabulated and reckoned with. But God doesn’t work around a census day; he just shows up and interrupts everyone’s best efforts to list and to tally, to contain and control. And each Advent, he asks of us this: Will you open yourself up to a love that shows up at the least convenient of times, to a presence that cannot be prescribed by inn availability, to a tiny baby for whom no one has any room?
By all means, we are to prepare for Jesus’s birth. Let every heart prepare him room. But, this Advent season, if it’s getting late and your guest room isn’t finished and still the Christ child comes knocking at your heart’s door, don’t turn him away. Perhaps the furniture isn’t assembled. Maybe the bed isn’t made. Or, say all you have is a few bands of cloth and a mound of loose hay. Not to worry: he’ll make a home there anyway.