Sweep the walk.
Vacuum the living room.
Clean up the bathroom.
Finish preparing another casserole.
Put fresh sheets on the bed in the guest bedroom.
Most of us—But we might note, not all of us!—have worked our way down this sort of mental list before. Preparing for guests in your home is no small task. There is always much to do. That is, of course, if you plan to treat your expected visitors as special guests, to go beyond what you would normally do for yourself. Then again, 'special guests' is surely a tautology. Is there another kind of guest other than special? (Okay … other than your in-laws.)
I suppose one could choose not to prepare for guests at all: "Come on in, friends. Sit on our couch all hairy with cat hair. Rest your feet on our crummy rug. Enjoy some tasty leftovers. Come, get some rest on the same sheets you used during your last visit."
Of course not! None of us would think twice about welcoming a friend or family member into that kind of house if we could help it. We would go out of our way to make sure that all is ready. Special guests deserve at least that much.
Perhaps it is not so different for the season of Advent. In his book Worship Is a Verb, Robert Webber likens Advent to a time when we anticipate a special guest coming to visit our home. Much hard work and preparation spans several weeks. But the real burden of that work is offset by the hopeful expectancy of spending time with someone special.
I am sure that you, like me, have spent weeks preparing for a visit by loved ones, knowing full well that when they come you will be ready to relax and enjoy their presence. This change in mood from preparing to enjoying is not unlike the shift in spiritual mood from Advent to Christmas. Simply put, Christmas is a season of joy, festivity, and fun. It's a twelve-day festival from December twenty-fifth to January sixth, the day of Epiphany. And our spiritual experience during this time should be similar to that of enjoying a visit from someone special. It is a time of celebration, of singing Christmas carols, of giving and receiving gifts, of enjoying fellowship with friends and loved ones...during this time we are truly alive and free in the presence of our Guest. And the good news of Jesus Christ deserves a shout, a party, a frolic!
If we are not careful, our Advent and Christmas traditions can easily slip into the realm of the purely sentimental: something good to celebrate if one so chooses, but not altogether necessary for the soul. Yet preparing to receive the Savior is hardly a sentimental trip. By remembering Christ's advent (coming) in the past, we learn to "remember the future"— to ready ourselves for the good and great day of the Lord. Webber's analogy of preparing for a guest reminds us that there is indeed work to be done – soul work, you might call it. We are learning, year by year, to live in the expectancy of God's promised future.
Preparing the heart and mind for the advent of Christ is as important a task as preparing for Christmas guests in your home. Are our hearts ready for the coming of one who resides among us by his Holy Spirit? Perhaps the five candles of our traditional Advent wreath – the wreath that always adorns our sanctuary in this season – will serve as a kind of spiritual to do list for preparing for Christ. With each new candle lighting there is new reason to have good hope. Let us then prepare, expect, worship, and wait with all that we have to give. Advent cometh. May God grant us an Advent season full of hope and peace.