Good morning. 

Have guests ever shown up at your door twenty minutes early?  That may or may not be a big deal, especially if your guests are family or good friends.  But have you ever had guests show up three hours early?  That can be a problem.  That almost happened to me once. 

It was 1979.  I was twenty-four years old.  I’d recently moved to Atlanta to teach choral music at Russell High School in East Point.  I was renting a tiny efficiency apartment in an old, quaint 1920’s apartment building in Inman Park, and I wasn’t much of a housekeeper.

Fortunately, I had help with the dishes.  I used to stack dirty dishes in the sink, washing them by hand only when I needed to use them.  That old building had hundreds of cockroaches.  Do you get the picture?  When I left for work in the morning those cockroach buddies would scurry to my sink and “help me” clean up the dirty dishes.  I know this, because when I came home in the evening and turned my key in the lock, I always heard the pitter-patter of tiny cockroach feet scurrying away.

I won’t describe the amount of dust on my furniture or the condition of my bathroom.  I think you get the picture.  You see, back then I was into music, not housekeeping.

Anyway, it was December and I was a member of the Atlanta Symphony Chorus.  We were performing the “Christmas with Robert Shaw” concerts, and I got tickets for my mom and my dad, my sister Gail and my brother-in-law Joe.  They were to leave Brunswick on Saturday morning and arrive at my apartment that afternoon.  Now, Atlanta is a five hour drive from Brunswick.  And Joe, my brother-in-law, agreed to drive them up that morning.

So, at 10:00 a.m. the phone rang.  I got out of bed (remember, I was twenty-four) and answered.  It was Joe.  “Hey, Barry,”

“Hey Joe”, I said.  “Where are y’all.  Have you left Brunswick yet?”

Joe laughed.  “Well yeah,” he said.  “Actually, we’re right around the corner from where you live.”

“What?  You can’t be!  What time did y’all leave Brunswick? 5:00 a.m.?”

Joe laughed again.  “Yeah,” he said.  “You know your daddy.  He likes to get on the road early.”

“Joe, you gotta help me out here.  I gotta clean up this place.  No kidding.  I need at least an hour.  I’m beggin you.  Help!”

Joe laughed again.  “Well, I thought we might be a little early.  That’s why I called.”  Apparently Joe had once been 24 years old himself.  “I see a breakfast place down the street,” he said.  “See you in an hour.”

And with that I threw myself into a cleaning frenzy.  I grabbed the Ajax, the Windex, the Pine Sol.  The Clorox, the Brillo pads, and the Formula 409.  And, with heaven’s help and Martha Stewart’s blessing, the place didn’t look half bad.  At least, that’s what I thought.  That’s what I hoped for.

Bottom line: when my family came to visit, I didn’t want to be ashamed of the way I lived.  I didn’t want to be ashamed, and I didn’t want them to be ashamed for me, either.  Maybe you understand what that’s like.

Today’s collect is all about house cleaning.  At the beginning of our worship this morning we prayed that Jesus, at his coming, might find in each of us a mansion prepared for himself.  That seems to imply that we must do a lot of cleaning up.  It means that if my house is in a mess, then it’s up to me to clean it up before Jesus gets there and gives it the white glove treatment.

I’m here to tell you that if it’s up to me to clean up my house, forget it.  Back in 1979 I pulled it together a little to impress my family.  I doubt it worked.  They were nice when they got there, but I don’t think I fooled anybody.  I’m a failure at housekeeping.  I’m a messy sinner, too, and by the grace of God I know that.

Here’s the irony and the mystery: since I figured out that I was a hopeless housecleaner, my spiritual house has gotten considerably cleaner.  I no longer depend on my own efforts.  I depend upon God’s grace.

When invited, God cleans my house.  Not me.  I just need to leave the door open and invite God in.  God is my housekeeper.

Of course, I’m speaking in metaphor here.  Yes, we all need household cleaning items, and need to use them regularly.  I’m speaking instead about our spiritual homes.  We can try to fool God by our last minute efforts of cleaning up.  But we won’t fool God, we won’t fool ourselves, and we probably won’t fool others.  We’re messy people.  That is not going to change.

God’s grace will not change either.  Here’s the irony and the mystery: as we rely more and more upon God’s grace and less and less upon our own efforts, the house somehow gets cleaner.  It’s not about our efforts.  It’s about God’s loving kindness; God’s patience; God’s love.

Tonight will be Christmas Eve.  Tonight God becomes human to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves.  What we can do (what we must do) is welcome Jesus and offer him our hearts.  We’re not good housekeepers.  That’s why we rely on God’s grace.


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