Maureen Pratt

An unexpected visit from a friend who lives quite a distance away became a blessing in many respects. Of course, it was delightful to see someone in person after a long span of being apart, even with masks and social distancing.

The visit also prompted me to pick up the pace (and items that needed to be returned to shelves, etc.) of tidying up more “lived in” spaces.

Yet another aspect of the visit has had spiritually profound effects. A renewed sense of eager anticipation energized my activity as the time for the visit drew near.

Much like the hallway that suddenly became brighter when I replaced an old bulb, the thought of extending hospitality overshone the long months of pandemic isolation and drew me into a more profound realization for this holiday season and, especially, Advent:

How we prepare to welcome has a deep impact on what happens when we welcome.

For example, I realized early into preparations for my friend’s visit that I could not do everything in one day. Instead, I made up a schedule, breaking up the tasks into smaller periods of time. I actually think I accomplished more this way, and I certainly wasn’t as tired.

Advent devotions can be approached in much the same way: Instead of thinking of long readings or prayer time, smaller segments can build one on the other, to bring us forward throughout the season.

Observing my surroundings through my guest’s eyes was a good way to notice details that needed attention and put my preparations in the context of wanting to do the best for a good friend. I found the semi-hidden plant leaves that needed pruning, the catalogue I’d meant to discard — some of the “littler” things.

During our soul-searching in Advent, if we try to see ourselves as God sees us — as created in God’s likeness and image, as being so precious to God that we are known by name — we might be able to identify and improve on details of our faith, for example, finding more quiet or better focus, without being so critical or judgmental that we lose sight of God’s love.

The preparations for my friend’s visit made me realize that welcome is work, but need not be toilsome, if we look beyond the “pain.” The bending and stretching and balancing (as in, changing the lightbulb) benefited me as much as it would reflect my care for my friend and was pleasant, good exercise — another unexpected blessing!

So, too, each act of faith between now and Christmas can build our relationships with God and one another, sharing the “reason for the season” in a world where it is sometimes lost.

By the day of the visit, I’d made good progress on many things, but some things remained to be done. Those plants needed more than pruning, some could have used new pots. Another light went out just as the one I’d replaced was installed. The tea I’d have liked to have offered wasn’t available at the store.

I started to play “should have …”

I should have started sooner, I should have anticipated, I should have …

Then, I remembered Luke’s Gospel passage (10:38-42) about Jesus’ visit with Mary and Martha. We hear about Mary sitting at Jesus’ feet, listening, and Martha still distracted (10:40), working away beyond the time of Jesus’ arrival. What a contrast! And how helpful for all who work hard to prepare.

There will undoubtedly always be things left to be done. Yet, once the guest of honor arrives, as with Christmas, it’s time to put aside the work and enjoy!

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Pratt’s website is www.maureenpratt.com.