Grace and strength from the plaster dust

Published December 1, 2002

In our household, getting ready for Christmas is taking more effort this year than in any of the 40 years we have been a household. As well as all the usual pressures of cards and presents and celebration, we are into major repairs and renovations to most of our house. Visitors survey the dislocation and ask, “When will it be finished?” and we wonder if they are really saying, “This looks like it may never be finished!?” We say, “It has to be done by Christmas.” Why Christmas? Because, although the major reason for the work is to make the house more liveable in terms of heating costs (as well as less dingy), the Christmas deadline is important so that family who come from elsewhere will have not only more space to sleep and eat, but also a brighter and cheerier welcome. And we have every confidence that it will be done by Christmas. But this frantic unfamiliar activity is certainly messing up the already hectic pace of the usual pre-Christmas rush. What about the cards? What about the Christmas letter (when will the computer be reconnected)? What about the gifts for distant friends and family? What about the antipasto we always spend a day making for colleagues at work (how long will the kitchen be out of commission)? And as I fret about all these questions, two other sets of reflections arise. First, how ironic to be worrying about whether our comfortable house will ready for the birth of the Son of God. He was born in a town far from his family?s home, where there was no room at the inn. How odd of me to fuss about comfort when I am preparing to worship Him who, almost immediately after his birth, would become homeless and a refugee in a foreign country. But on the other hand, the same Jesus for whom no place was prepared, told us, his followers, that he would go and prepare a place for us. He was speaking of an eternal place, but every eternal reality needs an earthly connection. If I have never prepared a place for others, have never gone out of my way to welcome both family and stranger, how can I begin to understand the potential and the intensity of a place with God prepared for me by Jesus? And these reflections all come together in the story of Christmas. It is the story of God?s absolute determination to make a home among us, however much we have built barriers against God?s love, to give us an unmistakable sign that all barriers, whether between us and God, or us and other people, can be overcome. And it is a story of the grace, simplicity, and humility of the Creator of the universe who considers that the creation deserves to be rescued, not rejected, abandoned or condemned. Back to our house. The mess of our household has a purpose, and in time the house will be better than it used to be (and certainly better than the turmoil of the moment!) And so when I contemplate Christmas, both the fearsome deadline that it always presents and the gracious story that it tells, I take heart from these reflections. So to all who read this, whether your circumstances are actual (or spiritual) homelessness, or whether they are comfort and joy – from amidst the plaster dust, paint pots and messiness, I pray that the Christmas gospel may be grace and strength and life for you. Archbishop Michael Peers is primate of the Anglican Church of Canada.


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