It’s Advent — This is how it begins

Maybe you remember the days when you could drop off a family member at the airport and then go out and watch the plane depart.  A small boy did that regularly with his traveling father.  When the little boy was about four, he took his first airplane ride.  After the family boarded the plane and buckled their seatbelts, the little boy began to scrunch up in his seat as the plane taxied down the runway.

“What are you doing, son?” his father asked.  “I’m waiting to shrink and disappear,” the little boy answered.[i]

What preconceptions, misperceptions and excess baggage fill you with fear?  The second and third Sundays in Advent are always house-cleaning Sundays.  Listen to the voice crying in the wilderness.  Prepare the way of the Lord!  This is how it begins.

Photo by Nathan Cowley on

It begins with clearing out a path, making a way.  It begins with shedding the preconceptions, misperceptions and excess baggage that make us shrink and disappear.

This is how it begins—with a thorough cleaning.

At our house, we wade through stuff we can’t use or no longer need.  We have give-away bags.  We have recycle bins.  We have trash tubbies.  We have to organize the stuff that holds the stuff we can’t get organized.  And we’re pretty good at letting things go!

What a relief it is when all the excess baggage is removed!  This is true in our storage rooms.  It’s even truer in our hearts and minds and spirits.  What is taking up space in my head that really belongs to Jesus? What is cluttering up my heart so that God can’t even catch a breath?  What is smothering my spirit so that the Holy Spirit can’t find a crack to blow through?

This is how it begins.  Clear out a path. Make a way.

What’s the best way to get the house cleaned?  Invite some company!  The King is coming.  So let’s spruce things up.  What needs sprucing up in me so that Jesus can be welcomed?

If only it would be enough to just rearrange all the excess baggage!  If we could just put things in different slots, tidier boxes, or nicely labeled folders!  Anything more than that requires real change.  And real change is precisely what we don’t want.  A little repackaging—a little reorganizing—but no more than that, please.

According to sociologists Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton, Christianity is not the most common faith among America’s teenagers.  Instead, the most common faith among teenagers is that they call “moralistic therapeutic deism.”  In this perspective God is “something like a combination Divine Butler and Cosmic Therapist: he’s always on call, takes care of any problems that arise, professionally helps his people feel better about themselves, and does not become too personally involved in the process.”[ii]

Smith and Denton have mapped that faith on to American teenagers.  I think it describes Americans in general.  American Christians embrace moralistic therapeutic deism.  They embrace the reshuffling of excess baggage and pretend to call it real change.  That’s a far cry from the one who baptizes us with the fire of the Holy Spirit.  Moralistic therapeutic deism is not how it begins.

This is how it begins—with a real house-cleaning.

It begins with people sitting in darkness and longing for light.  It begins with people deep in despair, waiting for a word of hope.  It begins with people drowning in disgust and death, longing for life and love.  It begins with a word in the wilderness.

And here is that word.  You and I can be changed.

Drew Carey is a successful stand-up comedian.  He has starred in his own sitcom, run an improve-comedy show, hosted a daytime game show, written a bestselling memoir, owned a soccer team, and led several charities.  You might think Carey is the most organized person on the planet.  Instead, he spent years terrified of his own to-do list.

Carey was drowning in emails, scripts, meetings, invitations, requests, bills, letters and plans.  He was so daunted, in fact, that he spent tens of thousands of dollars to fix the problem.  He contracted with Dave Allen, the author of Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity.  Allen’s system results in four files—things to be done, delegated, dropped or deferred. There’s lots more to it than that, but you get the picture.[iii]

What if we made those files a template for our spiritual life this Advent?  What if we looked in our hearts to see what needs to be done, delegated, dropped or deferred?  Perhaps what needs to be done is a change in priorities.  Perhaps what needs to be delegated is control of the cosmos.  Perhaps what needs to be dropped in the resentment and rage that fill our days.  Perhaps what needs to be deferred is our desire to have everything perfect.

Done, delegated, dropped or deferred—it’s a great spiritual discipline in this Advent season.

We do this not only to let go of things.  We do this to make space for the life Jesus wants us to have.  In her book, An Altar in the World, Barbara Brown Taylor offers this little exercise.

“If you want to try it, then make two lists on one piece of paper.  On the one side of the paper, list all of the things you know give you life that you never take time to do. Then, on the other side, make a list of all the reasons why you think it is impossible for you to do those things.  That is all there is to it.  Just make the two lists, and keep the piece of paper where you can see it.  Also promise not to shush your heart when it howls for the list it wants.”[iv]

That seems like a wonderful Advent exercise.  There will be two results.  You will experience a sense of peace when you focus on what gives you life.  And you will discover that what really gives you life is the place where Jesus wants to meet you every day.

This is how it begins—with a real house-cleaning.

So let’s begin.  Then we might have room for some really good news.  Where will the cleaning begin for you this week?

[i] Illustration from Stephen Montgomery, “Beyond Fear, Fundamentalism and Fox News: The Active Hope of Advent.”

[ii] See Smith and Denton, Soul Searching¸ page 165.

[iii] From Roy Baumeister’s book, Willpower.

[iv] Barbara Brown Taylor, An Altar in the World, page 138. 


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