A voice cries in the wilderness, ‘Prepare ye the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God’ (Isaiah 40:3).
In the vicinity of my son’s piano teacher’s studio there is a secluded road meandering under a canopy of trees by a stream. While he is at lessons, I walk down that road next to a centuries-old rock wall, once built by the stream.
Recently I noticed the trunk of a tree had grown around one of the larger rocks in the wall so that, now, it’s so much a part of the tree as to be inseparable from it. Surely it took years for the slow tree growth to swallow the foreign object so fully! The bulk of the stone protrudes almost uncomfortably from the belly of its trunk. To remove the stone now would surely kill the tree.
I considered that sin is like that stone. Our own innumerable moments stretch forward, busy and full and tired, so we cherish sins that distract and relieve and medicate us. Numbed living encroaches around a pet sin until it’s almost natural, even if eventually uncomfortable and unwieldy. We live around and swallow sin up in ourselves until it’s unremovable.
At first I thought, if that stone were sin, then God should just remove it. He can, and he will if we ask him to, and only he has the finesse and ability to do so in a way that it doesn’t kill us, if we really want him to. But if he were to remove the sin-boulder I cherish and can’t imagine living without, wouldn’t I be left with a gaping hole? What would I do with that?
The hole is the place that God fills with himself.
He cannot and will not invade an area we have stuffed with something else. Unless the heavy stone of my enormous pet sin is removed, there is no space for him.
Every place we clear in our lives and souls is an invitation for him to occupy it. And isn’t this the essence of Advent, in welcoming the Savior? Every valley and hill must be leveled, every crooked way made straight, every rough place made smooth for his coming.
There’s no time to lose. His arrival is near. Prepare the way of the Lord in your heart, dear one. Plan how you will deal with the discomfort as you wait for him to fill the cold hole of invitation left by your obedience, but trust that he will come. For it was the cold, empty cave, and not the overflowing inn, that welcomed salvation that Christmas night.