Photo Credit: Tara Magee

Preparing a place is one of my favourite things.  We love having the guest room full, the bed made and food planned, the anticipation of time spent with people we love.  Preparing makes space, in our home and inside of us, for those who are coming.  And this year, for the second time, we are pregnant in Advent.  It’s a beautiful connection to the ancient Story of God coming as an infant.

I have a rounded belly growing full of mischievous movement, and I feel exposed and empty as I prepare for Christmas.  We have crawled through a miscarriage, a season of unemployment, and a cavernous death.  The planting work of living, of daily meals and tidying, of tucking in and washing hands was laboured and late.  We showed up and watered and fed with all the strength we had and it was not much.  The fall harvest was spotty at best.  There was more grace than we put in, and that was a miracle.  The cut-off straw that is our family lies poking through the snow, having survived.

We have had so little to give; I am seeing that nothing has given us everything.  All the years we have spent preparing for guests actually taught us how to let people in.  This year, so many friends and strangers have walked into our mess with food and cleaning supplies, with hands for folding laundry, with a willingness to be with us in tears and big emotions.  The bathrooms have not been as clean as I would like them.  The kitchen has had stacks of paper and toys on surfaces that I want clear.  The drawers and closets are getting out of hand.

Our people came anyway.

Jesus is coming, again, to our messy world.  He chooses us over and over.  And He’s the kind of guest that comes, and if we are willing, stays all year.  He doesn’t care about the boxes from moving that remain unpacked, the mess in the junk drawer, or the toothpaste clumps in the sink.  Actually, Jesus finds treasures in the mess I am trying to hide, pulls joy out of my sadness, finds space and meaning and possibility in my emptiness.

With a fourth baby, the “spare” guest room will have its last season as a spare.  When the guests leave, we’ll work in a crib, and it will appear that we have no room.  But the appearance is a lie.  More people makes more room for love in me, not less.

The preparations for the baby are so much like the ones for guests: wash and fold, make small spaces simply welcoming, set out towels, make something comforting, get a little extra sleep.  Pinterest dupes us into thinking everything must be grand and colour-coordinated, but Pinterest is wrong.  Preparing readies my heart to be broken open by love.

Jesus came to an unwed, teenage mother and a foster father who chose faith.  He came in a stable and their little family became refugees in Egypt to flee a massacre of infant boys.  Jesus wept for my little Claire, held us in job loss, sent us every gift in death and grief, gifted our next-awaited baby boy.  Jesus is not a stranger to our raw and exposed wounds, since has known us and loved us in the emptiness.  He has been preparing to come to us again as we are.

Preparing my heart and my home requires a recognition of what I can do without becoming hardened by resentment, burdened by my own unrealistic expectations, and distracted by the unnecessary.  The straw and the snow and the sky are a stark and simple beauty, so I am preparing with some more slow, some more gentle, some more kind.

Preparing from emptiness feels shaky and weak, and it also clarifies that I only ever have myself to give anyway. When I am empty there is more space for the Ones coming. There is a snowy road stretching in front of me and also nothing to stop me from taking just one step at a time.

Christmas is about the simplest things.  God in this time and this place.  Generosity and hospitality.  Hope in struggle.  Light in overwhelming darkness.  Because I get so lost in the complicated, so caught up in trying to hold it all together, so defeated by the brokenness of it all, I need to prepare for things to get simple, small, empty.  Christmas comes anyway.

O Come, Emmanuel, come and stay with me.  Help me to see the beauty in the simple and the slow and the possible.  Let the empty space I feel in loss fill with Your uncluttered presence and grace.  May I prepare only what makes more room for love this Christmas. Amen.

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