Self-Examination

Throughout my Christian life, I deal with a tension between Law and Gospel. The Gospel, anchored in the Incarnation we anticipate during Advent, tells me that my salvation doesn’t depend on me, but on the overwhelming mercy of Christ my Lord. And yet Christ is my Lord, and that’s not just a nice label. How do I submit to Christ’s Lordship? Worse, how do I explain this to my young children without twsting them up into legalism? It is difficult enough to avoid a tendency toward legalism as an adult, but how much harder must it be for a child whose entire world is still made up almost entirely of stark contrasts, black and white? The first Sunday of Advent prompted in me a way to explain this to my children that seemed to help them, and maybe me too.


The four weeks of Advent are spent anticipating and preparing for Christ’s birth. We look forward to an event we are certain will happen, because we are actually looking back. We relive, in a sense, the wait of those who had heard the prophecy of Isaiah and others and knew that their Savior would come, but we do so with a certain knowledge where they had faith and hope.

And so I asked my children to consider what we would do if we knew that God Himself was coming to visit us on Christmas Day. We would have a big party! they suggested. We would invite all our friends! they said. And what do we do to get ready for a big party or a special guest? With a little prompting to help focus, we agreed that we examine the house carefully, to make sure that it is clean and well-organized for our guests, so that they feel comfortable. We fix up things that are broken, polish things that are dirty, and carefully identify those things about which we can do nothing (like our hall bathroom floor, which is currently bare concrete and could not be tiled before Thanksgiving Day) so that our guests won’t be surprised.

“What about us?” I asked. For ordinary human guests, we can dress up and polish our shoes and put pretty things in our hair and so on. For Jesus, though, things are a little different. For Jesus, we need to polish up our insides as well. We need to examine our thoughts and feelings just like we examine our house. We need to clean up what we can, fix what we can, and identify the things we can’t do anything about right now. The Good News is that Jesus is our most special guest, but He also knows us very well. He won’t be surprised by any messes we miss, or any broken things we can’t fix. If we were dressed poorly or hadn’t washed, and were surrounded by dirt, and had made no effort at all to prepare for Him, He would still come to us and He would still love us. But how would we feel? “Sad,” said my kids; “Ashamed,” I suggested.

So Advent, a time for self-examination as represented by purple candles in a wreath, is a time for cleaning up our lives as much as we can, and identifying what we can’t fix right now. Not because Jesus will be angry if we don’t, but because He deserves as nice a reception as we can possibly prepare, and to do any less would be sad.

My kids still fussed at each other later that evening, and I still got frustrated when the kitten attacked the Christmas tree. But I confessed my annoyance at the cat to my family, and reminded my kids of their antagonism of each other, and suggested that these were the sorts of messes we needed to try to clean up.

I think they understand. I hope I understand.

Father, thank you for your mercy on us, miserable offenders. Thank you for your promise to forgive us as we confess our failures to you. During this Advent season, please help us to remember that you showed your love by sending your Son to us while each of us was a completely broken mess. Please also remind us that you accept whatever efforts we make to try to clean up our lives. We welcome your Son as Lord of our lives, and ask all of these things in His name. Amen.

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~ by Phillip Winn on November 28, 2005.

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