I guess I did kind of a mean thing at the Advent Day Retreat yesterday. I usually avoid coercing people to do anything, but I made the retreaters turn to a couple of other people and answer this question: “What makes you a good place for Jesus to be born?” Be the manger; be the bed. It is not so shocking that God should be born in us if God is born in a stable! What makes you a good place for Jesus to be born?
Their reactions made me feel a bit like Paul writing to the Galatians: “My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you, how I wish I could be with you now and change my tone, because I am perplexed about you!” (Gal. 4:19-20) Quite a few people seemed to be having a problem admitting, much less saying, that they were a suitable place for Jesus to be born! They could easily go with how gracious God is to have come to a disintegrating, rebellious creation, to humbly be born in a stable and to act as a servant. But it was much harder for some to get their minds around the suggestion that the stable was quite good enough for God and that servanthood is a splendid means to express self-giving love. God is delighted to live in us. Be the manger.
“But,” the immediate protest begins, “won’t I end up being a prideful fool who is unaware of my sin if I start feeling good enough to receive Jesus?” There are many prideful fools around, after all.
But isn’t it also prideful to tell God that it is absurd for him to feel OK about filling you with his Spirit? Isn’t it foolish to keep an iron grip on your unworthiness instead of letting saved-by-the-grace-of-God be your new self-image? Isn’t it a bit audacious, in a bad way, to tell God he is crazy to love you so much, to want to snuggle in next to you like he supposedly does?
It is perplexing. Is Jesus so unformed in us that we would easily revert to being fearful slaves to whatever monstrous thing that used to run us – so much so that we would leave Jesus perpetually knocking on the door of it? As soon as people were given a chance to claim their right to be children of God, yesterday — to be the earthen jar in which glory is carried, to be the chosen friend in whom the secrets are confided, to be the sent one in whom the campaign for world redemption is entrusted, many were kind of tongue-tied. Maybe you, too. I watched a couple of groups just sit there staring at each other, waiting, until that got too awkward and they had to say something. But even when they started talking, it was not like they were as appreciative of God’s home as God was happy to be there! They did not have a ready list of what made them a decent house.
Being self-critical is useless unless Christ lives in us! Otherwise we are like a dog in the manger – not saving ourselves and not letting the baby get in there!
There are plenty of important ways to spend the season of Advent.
Maybe you are so full of yourself you need to empty out so Jesus can get a toe-hold.
Maybe you should stop being so preoccupied with whether Jesus is alive in you enough and go be an incarnation of the life you already have.
Maybe you need to wrestle with your disbelief and try to get to the bottom of it once and for all.
God knows what we should do; let’s ask him.
But I stumbled on one important way many people need to spend the season. Be the bed. God wants to be born in you. Come on, you’ve got to be at least as good as a stable! Are you really going to tell him there is no room? tell him he shouldn’t even want to stay in you in the first place? he’s dumb to even knock? he should come back when you’re tidy? Don’t do that. If you have to do something other than enjoying your undeserved favor, fluff the hay a bit.