My grandparents lived about 90 minutes away from us. They lived in Blue Island, outside of Chicago and we lived in Milwaukee. Every so often the telephone would ring and they would say they were on a day trip and on their way to visit. I would know it was Grandma and Gramps on the phone because when Mom hung up, she would call us away from whatever we were doing. "Okay kids, we're on M.E. alert. Grandma and Gramps will be here in 30 minutes. Get to it." An M.E. alert stood for Maximum Effort. It meant we had 30 minutes to pick up clutter, dust the furniture, put soda bottles in the icebox. Dad was in charge of picking up the toys outside and getting the porch in order. Mom emptied the dishwasher, Bob and I made our beds, straightened our rooms, threw our dirty laundry down the chute to the washing machine. There was always scurrying around, gripeing by Bob and me, a few mild expletives from Dad and heightened anxiety for Mom. Somewhere in the midst of any complaining we might do, my mother would remind us that the neater we kept the house the rest of the time, the less last minute effort we would have to expend. M.E. meant maximum effort, get ready, company is coming.
I read an interesting article recently that made me think with fondness of those M.E. alerts. The author noted that our homes and churches tend to be at their best and we tend to be on our best behavior when compnay is coming. If we don't expect company, we tend to let things slide. Dishes in the sink, broken screen doors, hedges needing work; its good enough, its just us after all. Advent is the season of preparation, of getting ready, of watching expectantly, because - Company is indeed coming.
Sometimes we get lost in the preparations though. We stuff things under the bed, pull out the gaudy gift we got from our guest last year. We spend too much trying to impress them. We want everything just right. Getting ready means getting fake, putting on appearances. Advent can be a corrective for that kind of mindset. The One we're getting ready for was born in a barn. And getting ready for Him isn't about overdoing it or putting on appearances. Advent is the yearly opportunity to find room for Him in our lives.
Of course He tends to show up in our lives in all sorts of guises; many of which make us uncomfortable. He doesn't always fit in at church; he tends to make demands and turn things upside down. Like pushy Uncle Joe, we prefer he comes in short doses. And yet, being on the look out for Jesus, waiting expectantly, keeping the door open to Him and His ways, can turn each day into joyfilled expectancy. Company is coming. Let's get ready.
Kate Kotfila is Pastor of Cambridge United Presbyterian Church. She and her husband David live in Jackson. They have two adult children & a faithful (if clueless) Plott hound, Arnie.