Two weeks ago when I arrived for choir practice several sopranos and altos were crawling around on the floor picking up tiny colored beads that were scattered everywhere on the carpet. I guess somebody’s necklace or bracelet had broken and folks were intent on finding and saving each and every tiny bead. I joined them on my hands and knees, licking my fingers so multiple beads would stick to them at once (kinda gross, I know, but it was more efficient than trying to get them with my thumb and index finger). Somebody volunteered to just get the vacuum, and all the bead picker- uppers said, in unison, ”NO, we are trying to save them.”
Crawling around on the choir room carpet reminded me of a pretty typical scene from my childhood. My grandparents who lived only a few blocks from us were in the habit of stopping by, unannounced and often, mostly in the early evening. We were usually all in the living room, and when my mom heard their car pull into the driveway, she would say to us five kids, “grandpa and grandma are here, pick up the fuzzies off the rug.” We had an old forest green carpet that was worn down in spots to the sandy—colored woven backing. Not great-looking, and it looked worse with whitish fuzzies all over it.
My mom struggled with depression and having had five kids by the time she was twenty-five, it was difficult for her to keep up with the housework. She felt shame about this. So, on command, we would all get on our hands and knees and madly clean up the carpet (that’s where I learned to lick my fingers to get up the small fuzzies). Even though we all knew that my grandparents dropped in three or four times a week at roughly the same time every evening, we were never quite ready for their arrival.
Today is the fourth Sunday of Advent, and we’ve been getting ready to celebrate the birth of the living God in the baby Jesus, and also giving our attention to a vision of the future in which Jesus will come again and the reign of God will be complete, and the whole creation will be new and free from sin, brokenness, suffering, and death. The gospels say that Jesus will come like a thief in the night and the four weeks of Advent are designed to have us focused on and getting ready for this divine break-in. And I’ve been thinking it would be better to do Advent in July when there are fewer distractions and we are less busy, and we don’t have to spend time dealing with snow and ice, and we’re not fighting flus and colds, and there is more daylight. We could be more focused. We could be more ready to welcome the living God.
And lucky for us, we do do Advent in July, and August and September, and December, and every other month of the year. It is the core commitment of our life together in this congregation, to be ready to welcome every body. The gospels are clear that in the person of Jesus, God comes to us again and again, seeking welcome, in the person who needs of a cup of cold water, food, clothing, shelter, a hug, a word of hope, a hearing, a hand, a ride, a phone call, an advocate, a minute of our time, or a few hours. Our life together here is our learning lab, the place we learn and practice God’s unconditional welcome as a way of life.
Sometimes we’re ready to give that welcome, and sometimes we’re not. And the good news is that at some level it doesn’t matter. Because God will keep breaking-in and showing up whether we are ready or not. Whether the carpet is full of fuzzies or not. Whether our hearts are open or not. Whether we have time and energy to respond, or not. Whether we are feeling generous or not. Whether there is room in the inn or not. God will keep breaking-in like a thief in the night, arriving as a baby born in the back animal shed, hurrying like a shepherd in search of a single lost sheep, crawling on hands and knees like an alto gathering every last tiny, scattered, precious bead. God will keep showing up in all kinds of ways. It is God’s coming in the prophets of Israel, in the womb of Mary, in the flesh of Jesus, in the wild whoosh of the ever-present Spirit who indwells us–it is God’s coming and staying with us that makes of us people who live out God’s wide, unconditional, joyous, welcome.