Sunday, November 28, 2010

To Prepare a Place

Many things tug at my spirit as "the Holidays" approach. 'Tis the season for ... taxes, class registration, fees, and 3,000 lbs of sand in the back of the truck. I won't get to be with family again this year and for some reason after five years I suddenly find myself missing my home in California. I miss the days of hosting get-togethers, sharing traditional home-cooked food, playing board games, getting on each others' nerves as only family can do...

Perhaps because of this disconnect, I venture into this time of year with a distinct longing in my heart for greater meaning. Alone, I'm likely to wake up on Christmas Eve to find that it is just another day; whatever opportunity there is in this time and for this season will be gone before I've even realized it's started. Oh, sure, there will be church services here and there, but unless I am actually living these days out of a more meaningful story, church is, at best, a glimpse of something that is passing me by.

So, what I am searching for, I think, is my own personal traditions. I want intentional practices that engage my heart and mind in order that I might connect with God during this season. Advent devotionals, decorating, candle-lighting - there has to be something I can do to remind my spirit to meet, commune, and worship in the midst of the chaos, commercialism, superstition and stale religion. Why can't there be something that I can do to make this time more meaningful?

Incidentally, I had kind of a big fight with a friend this weekend. In the aftermath I was reminded of a story...

It was the winter of my move to Kansas City. I had prayed all summer about going back to school. I had submitted applications and visited campuses, trying to engage in the process that I had circumvented at 18. Prospects took a turn for the worst and there was a solid month of depressing dead ends. There was no money. There were no housing prospects. Loose ends wiggled this way and that, refusing to be tied up. My lease was running out and a new tenant wanted in. Things were going nowhere and I was starting to feel pretty bleak.

After 30 days of praying I fell upon the passage in John 14:2-3.

Behold, I go before you to prepare a place for you. And if I go, I will come back to take you to be with me, so that where I am, there you will be also.

Yeah, yeah, I thought. Jesus goes before us to prepare a place with his Father for us in heaven someday. I'm familiar with this passage.

No, God said. I go before you to prepare a place for you. Now.

Hrm. What does that mean?

The next day I got an email about a house I looked at in Kansas City - the asking price had dropped $30,000. I then got a call from someone who suddenly wanted to pay me what he owed me, and within a week I got the money for both the house and the bachelor's program I had fallen in love with at MidAmerica. A month later I closed on my house, and in another 30 days I moved.

When I arrived in Kansas City, I discovered the story behind my house - it seems God had actually been preparing it years before I could have known I would even need a house - before I ever dreamed of going back to school. And the money that paid for it - it turns out that someone in my home church had put it up so that the person who paid me *could* pay me. In fact, the story of my house alone could fill pages, but that is a blog for another time. And what God did for my home he also did for my school and my church and my job, too.

Behold, I go before you to prepare a place for you.

That is when I decided that, where He leads me, I will follow - no matter what, no matter where, no matter how - for wherever he is, that is where I want to be.

I think of it now in the aftermath of a hurtful fight with a friend and in the midst of my advent ponderings because in moments like these, when I am far from family, when I feel alone and disconnected from others and from a greater story, I am most aware of feeling like I don't belong, like there is no place for me. No one seems to go before me to make my path straight or safe, to ensure that things work out. It's like that 30 days of dead ends.

Which also makes me think of a humble couple wandering the streets of Bethlehem on a cold, dark night. There was no place for them. The God of the Universe who had promised a savior to a people for generations upon generations appeared to a girl, told her that she was going to play a part in the fulfillment of scripture by having a baby out of wedlock (what a horrible term), and when that baby was due to be born, that girl was in the street because that same God forgot to make hotel reservations.

Of course, we know that God didn't forget anything. God had gone before them. He did prepare a place. It just didn't seem like it at the time.

And that wasn't the only time...

Foxes have dens and birds have nests but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head (Matt 8:20, Luke 9:58).

Throughout scripture we see Christ and his followers without a place of belonging, even to the point that they are described a strangers and aliens in this world. Yet God had prepared a place, a place in His plan of redemption, a place of sorrow and sacrifice, yes, but also a place at His right hand, victorious over death.

I suppose the theme I see in each of these stories, both my own and those from scripture, is that there will be dark, cold, lonely moments - moments when it seems like no one has gone before you, that there is no place prepared and nowhere to 'lay your head' - but the truth is, though we cannot see it, God does go before us and He does prepare a place for us, in His plan, in His work, in His presence.

This comfort, then, brings me back to the way I want to approach this season.

In the wilderness, prepare the way for the Lord... (Is 40:3).

If advent means arrival then I want to prepare the way, to prepare to meet God here and now in this place and this time, and to prepare a place for Him - even as He prepared and does prepare a place for me. That is how I will choose a season of greater meaning in the midst of disappointment, loneliness, and chaos. That is what gives greater meaning to the times when things seem a little bleak, the times when things aren't working out and we feel like we don't belong and there isn't a place for us.

Prepare me, O God, to meet with you.

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