At its best, getting ready for the party is almost as good as the party itself.
Clean the house. Set the table. Cook the food – fancy food, hearty food, plain or spicy. Just make sure there’s lots of it and it’s good. Oh, and remember to pull the best bottles from your cabinets and cellars, with lots of glasses and plenty of ice.
Take a bath, polish yourself up, and put on your goin’-to-the-party clothes. Smile and be happy and open the door.
The house will fill with chatter and laughter. The convivial spirit will rise as bellies fill and wine glasses empty. For a moment the ugliness of the world is held off outside the walls and inside you taste just a bit of heaven. It was finally worth all the work and worry of getting ready, because once the party is on, nothing else matters.
That’s how it’s supposed to work. But…that’s not always the case, is it?
Have you ever prepared for a party and found that the preparation was not fun at all? Have you ever been overtaken by “guest anxiety?” You work for hours, perhaps days, in a red mist of hospitality rage, trying to whip things into shape, and woe to the poor fool who gets in your way or fails to pitch in to help. It's a soul sucking madness that takes over the whole house and turns the rest of the family into zombie slaves in the thrall of the rabid hostess, made mad by her party planning psychosis.
This is what happens when the host begins to think that the point of the party is to prove what a great host she is. Instead of offering the party as an act of joyful love for the sake of your friends, the party becomes (in the mind of the host) the impending day of judgment -- and the judges are your guests.
This is such an easy mistake to make because we love to make everything into a religion where we think that doing things just right will save us. We tell ourselves that its all for the guests, when in fact the guests are just an excuse to congratulate ourselves on what good hosts we are. We turn the party into a religion and in the process miss the whole point of the exercise.
Now in the second week of Advent we prepare for the party we call Christmas. It's a pretty big deal, in case you haven't noticed. In this layer of the advent season we remember when Jesus was coming and look forward to when he will come again. His coming changes everything. So we prepare.
Here is the question: What are we preparing for? The judgment? Or the Party?
Be careful how you answer. It’s a trick question really, because if you are preparing for judgment, if you think you are preparing to be good enough for the party, you can just forget it. It is simply impossible for us to perfectly clean the cobwebs out of every corner of our spiritual house. We can scrub and polish and sweep and wipe, but we can never banish the stains and dust of our fallen lives. We can never really make it good enough for Jesus. The dirt is just too embedded. The walls too rotten. The carpet too shabby.
But that doesn’t mean that there’s no party, and it certainly doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t invite him in. On the contrary – that's exactly why we MUST invite him in. You see, this is the Good News.
Jesus is the guest who, when he arrives, cleans the house for us – top to bottom. Jesus cleans our kitchen, shines our bathroom, scrubs the toilets, washes the floors and deep cleans the carpets. Jesus arranges the furniture, plumps the pillows, puts away all the scattered clothes, polishes the silver and straightens the pictures on the walls. When Jesus arrives he takes your house, and completely remakes it into the best house it could possibly be and then some – spotless, perfect and completely comfortable. Jesus is the original and better Extreme Makoever Home Edition.
Not only that, Jesus provides all the food. More than you could possibly eat, more kinds than you can possibly imagine and better than you ever thought it could be. Whatever food you might have to offer, even if it’s just meager loaves and dried fishes, he will take what you offer and make it into the most sumptuous meal you never imagined.
With Jesus there is no dieting, no diabetes and certainly no anorexia. With Jesus if its feast time then it is time to feast! And when Jesus is in the house, you can bet no wine bottles will ever go empty.
This is Gospel: Jesus brings his own party wherever he goes and nobody – but NOBODY -- throws a better one.
This too is Gospel: Jesus is both the best guest and the most host, all at the same time.
And this also is Gospel: he has invited you to your own party.
So get ready wontcha?.
Jesus has both come and is yet coming. We are both waiting (preparing) and enjoying his presence now. So prepare out of joyful overflowing love and in prescient thanksgiving. Forget fear and judgment – he has fulfilled the judgement for us so that we need not fear it any more. Know that when our own preparations fall short (and they always do), Jesus makes up the difference, completely, joyfully, perfectly.
Make sure you understand what I am saying. Get ready. Clean yourself up. Make your place beautiful. Do all the things you would do to prepare for the most wonderful guests - but do it all out of love and thanksgiving for the host, and the party He brings. That is Gospel.
So for Christ’s sake (really, I mean it literally) stop worrying and get ready to party. Jesus is on his way.