For those who are counting, there are now eleven days until Christmas. For all of the high spirits of the season, this is about as busy and emotionally demanding a time of the year as we have. There is year-end pressure for many businesses, there are gifts to buy, cards to send, travel to plan, Christmas trees to haul in and decorate, office parties to go to.

And then there’s the emotional weight of this time of year—the memories of Christmases past and longings for Hallmark Card versions of what we think Christmas should be and anticipation of times with family.

All of this makes me think of the little boy who came home exhausted after a hard day of being dragged around the packed malls doing Christmas shopping. That night saying his prayers, he got himself confused saying the Lord’s Prayer. “Forgive us our Christmases as we forgive those who Christmas against us.”

In the midst of all this busyness the church gives us this Advent season so that we can clear space and make room for God. Last week and this we are looking at John the Baptist, the ornery, demanding prophet appearing out in the wilderness and calling Israel to get ready to receive the Messiah. “Repent,” “turn around,” he says. Stop what you’re doing and prepare the way for God to come into your world and your life. As we heard today, his harsh charges and provocations ultimately landed him in prison. You and I are not ready just as we are to receive God in our lives, he’s saying. There isn’t space, there isn’t room. We’ve got some changing to do.

Making room for God is in many ways the constant theme of Advent and Christmas. The prophet Isaiah speaks of the valleys being raised up and the mountains made low to create a path for God to come.

When Mary hears the angel Gabriel tell her that she is to bear a child who is to be the savior of the world, she has to consent to this, to say yes. She has to be willing to make room for God in her own body and her own life. That’s the way the 15th century monk Fra Angelico imagined it as he painted the moment of Annunciation. The room is portrayed as plain and bare – a virginal room, the art historians say, meant to be a sign of a young virgin woman who was willing to let Christ’s life take shape in her.

And of course at the center of the Christmas story is the fact that Mary had to give birth to the Christ child in a stable outdoors in Bethlehem, because the world could make no room for him in the inn.

In some ways that’s always the issue. Do we have room in our busy, demanding lives for Christ to be born in us?

One of the chief spiritual issues of American life is the too-muchness of our days that can keep Christ out. Preacher William Willimon tells of a conversation with a friend who was the pastor of a group of churches in Africa that has gone through tremendous suffering. His country had endured brutal political oppression, and his friend was even in prison for awhile. And so when he came to the U.S., Willimon welcomed him with open arms and did everything he could to help him.

At the end of the visitor’s stay, Willimon was expressing concern for the desperate situation his friend was going back to when his friend said, “Actually, I have more sympathy with your situation. There is just so much here. You have so much freedom, so many things. What is left to offer people? What needs do they have for which the gospel could be fulfillment? I have great respect for those of you who preach the gospel and who minister in the situation of North America. There is so much fulfillment and so little emptiness. The gospel feeds on emptiness.”

Willimon then recalls bragging to a friend that he was on his way to preach a sermon in Marblehead, Massachusetts, that beautiful seacoast town with a harbor full of sailboats and yachts.

“Big mistake,” his friend said. “Marblehead is a hard place to preach.”

“Why?” Willimon asked. “Marblehead is so beautiful,” his friend said, “such an exquisite place to live that nobody wants to go to heaven after living in Marblehead.”

How can there be room for God when our lives are so full? When our own kingdom is having a good year, we don’t yearn so much for God’s kingdom to come. When life is good, why bother with something like redemption?

Part of that fullness is choices. Everywhere we turn there are choices. If you don’t like listening to the NPR pledge drive, flick to another station. If you don’t like Starbucks coffee any more, there is Dunkin’ Donuts. If you don’t like one church, or one job, or one city, or one spouse, well then, just go find another. We can choose.

I was listening last week to a National Public Radio conversation about the impact of technology on our lives, and the main theme was how steadily we are using our computers and handhelds to fill up every waking second of our brain’s attention. One researcher reports that we switch our attention when we’re sitting at a computer 37 times every hour. We are eager to check Facebook, texts, and email, because, he says, we get a dopamine rush by clicking to a new spot simply in anticipation that something interesting might be there.

This obsessive leaping from data byte to data byte is diminishing our memory, our attention span, and our capacity to reflect. In fact, he’s saying our brain needs boredom, down time, time to muse and think and remember. And with no capacity for wonder and reflection there is no room for depth or for God.

Several years ago when I was away on retreat, I heard some words that have been stirring in me ever since:

If you have it all together, there is no room for God in your life.

But on the other hand, in our brokenness, vulnerability, and need, God finds you irresistible.

I wonder if you find those words as piercing as I do. Isn’t all our busyness, whether it’s the daily rush, or the Christmas frenzy, or the computer click, actually aimed at having it all, having full satisfaction at every moment? Isn’t that finally what we most want? I am guessing that many of us here are the sort of Type A, highly responsible, driven lot who live in and around Washington or get to visit here. We are working hard to have it all together!

And having it all together is not needing anyone else. It’s to be right all the time. It’s to be self-possessed, self-contained, independent, private. It means having money in the bank, a substantial roof over our heads, a career we can count on, and health that won’t give out. And if we have it all together, we really shouldn’t need anyone else, and certainly not God.

I remember the story of the seeker after enlightenment who went to the spiritual master and said, show me how to know God. The master listened to him, then took a cup, placed it on a table, and poured water in it until it overflowed. “Stop, why are you doing that?” the seeker said. “Because you are like that. Your life is so full as to be overflowing. There is no room for God in your life. Come back when there is room in your cup.”

But here’s the rub. For all of our fullness, we are not full. For all of the ways we have stuffed our lives until things are spilling over the rim, the deepest yearnings of our heart – for love, for belonging, for peace, for a just world for everyone, for a purpose in our lives – often go unmet. And so we need to hear that other, paradoxical truth: “In our brokenness, vulnerability and need, God finds us irresistible.”

We naturally think of the broken things in our lives as our enemies – the worry, the job loss, the illness, the conflict at home, our failures. But maybe we’ve had it all wrong. The places that are broken are exactly where God finds us irresistible, because they create space for God to come in. They open us up, they show us we aren’t masters of our own performances, that we need love, support, and help that we can’t muster for ourselves. We are not God, our achievements are not God, we are souls searching for home, and the light of home shines through our broken places.

And so some of the most important work of this Advent season is to peel away the veneer of having it all together and pay attention to what’s underneath.

It’s something we need to do as a nation as well. As long as we are intent on being the always virtuous superpower, we are closing God out of our public life. As long as both political parties each act as if it is in full possession of all truth and that to think differently from its view is to be morally bankrupt, our politics and our country will have a troubled future. Perfect wisdom is not am available option for political leaders any more than it is for you and me. Our leaders need uncertainty, a willingness to listen, the capacity to compromise. If we can acknowledge our own limits, our need for cooperation and support in facing our own problems, we will be making room for God’s love, justice, and truth in our life.

And if in these harsh economic times we can address the struggles of the poor and jobless in our cities, the plight of those who are holding down two jobs and are still unable to afford a roof over their family’s heads, especially the sky-high unemployment in an urban centers, then we will be making room for Christ’s love to be born in our cities in the coming year.

Is there room for God in your life? That’s the question of these Advent days.

It’s the question a man had to face in the fine movie of several years ago About Schmidt. The story opens with Schmidt, who is played by Jack Nicholson, sitting miserably through his retirement party, and we slowly come to see that here’s a man who had stuffed his life full of things that never really mattered to him. As his career is ending, he sees how quickly his company files are being tossed out. His wife, whom he doesn’t like, dies unexpectedly, and his daughter wants nothing to do with him.

Schmidt is a frightened, lonely man. One day, though, in going through his mail he opens an appeal from an international children’s fund, which says that for $22 a month he can help an orphan in Africa and that he can actually write to the child. So on the spot he sends a check, and starts to write letters to Ngudu, a 6 year-old Tanzanian orphan. He writes the boy about his wife, his troubles with his daughter, about his lonely, lost life.

At the end of the movie he returns home from his daughter’s wedding and finally names the truth of his life: “I’m a failure; I’ve never made a difference to a solitary human being.” And then he sees an envelope from Tanzania. It contains a note a nun has transcribed for him from Ngudu, thanking him and sending him a picture he has drawn. Schmidt opens it up to see two stick figures, an adult and a child, their arms outstretched to each other as if they’re holding hands. And for the first time, tears begin to run down Schmidt’s cheeks. At long last, he has stopped covering over the broken places in his life and begun to make room for God.

What about you? Is there room for God in your life this season?

Are there fears, losses, and broken places that you keep pushing away? Pay attention to them – they are where God is seeking you.

Are you burdened about trouble at work or at home? Don’t run from it, but listen to what it is saying. Chances are, that’s where Christ is coming.

Do you see a world that doesn’t look much like a savior has come to it? Watch for the broken place that has your name on it.

You see, “If we have it all together, there is no room for God in our life. But on the other hand, in our brokenness, vulnerability, and need, God finds us irresistible.”

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