Sunday, December 07, 2014

Advent 8 : Making Room On The Stairs And Under The Stairs

Advent 8a : Making Room On The Stairs

Stairs are a strange place.  For a start, they are a liminal space, a ‘between-spaces’ – neither upstairs nor downstairs but between the two.  They have a clear, and fairly limited, functional purpose; but are in fact used in several others ways too.

The bottom step is the ‘naughty step’ – a place of ‘time out’ for a child who is in need of calming down, a temporary exclusion from shared space, in order that the child – who experiences strong emotions, and has not yet learnt the mastery of them – can be brought back into the fold, into the embrace of the family.

If you are British, you may well know of the step half-way up, or down, the stairs, which is a place to sit and ponder on the big questions of life – or, at least, for a child to ponder the questions that are big to them (the tragedy of most children is that as they grow they have the pondering knocked out of them by the arrogance of adults, who know so very much) – immortalised by AA Milne.

The stairs are also a place of risk.  I think all five members of my family – three children and two adults – have slipped and fallen down the stairs on at least one occasion.

The stairs are also a place of memories.  On the wall around our stairs we have photographs of each of our children, as babies, and the cross-stitch sampler their mother made to commemorate each of their births.  On the window ledge at the top of our stairs there are photographs of our god-children.  Like the baby Jesus, none of those babies exist – scour the universe and you won’t find them – but they are all still alive.  This is a moment in time we revisit, with thanks for the gift, and recognising what has become and is yet to become of them.

How might we make space for Jesus on the stairs in Advent?  Here are some ideas.

If your stairs are warm, they are a good place to sit and to read again the Christmas story (we have a collection of retellings, for children of all ages) – a story of real risk, from start to finish;

Likewise, the half-way stair is a good place to sit and reflect on the one in whom heaven (upstairs) and earth (downstairs) are brought-together; on the one in whom the past (his nativity) and the future (his return in glory) touch the present; and a good place to reflect on the liminal tension of living now between the first and second coming of our Lord;

Place an envelope on each step of the stairs, allocated to each day (if you don’t have enough stairs for one per each day in Advent, try doing this in four weekly rotations).  In each envelope, place an Advent challenge: to listen to a CD of Christmas music; to re-read the Christmas story; to donate goods to a local charity supporting those who are particularly vulnerable at this time of year; to make an Advent decoration...

Sit on the naughty step and have a conversation with the one who is both spotless Lamb of God and the Good Shepherd, who came to bring us back into his fold.

Advent: making room for Jesus – on the stairs.

Advent 8b : Making Room Under The Stairs

Our first home together as a couple had open-plan stairs: with no banisters, and no boxed-off space underneath.  The estate agent who showed us around clearly saw it as a barrier to be overcome in selling the property, but we loved it: it added real character to the room.  We positioned our bookshelves and my favourite armchair under the stairs, and the space became a mini-den while still being part of the living space.  And many was the time when we had up to twenty young adults piled into the room, including sat all the way up the stairs, eating cake and sharing the stories of our lives.

Another house had two cupboards under the stairs.  One was small and for the most part inaccessible, and in it we kept most of the gear we use when we go camping.  The other was a closet in which we kept those things we wanted to hand, but not under-foot (though they are, I suppose, under foot whenever we climb the stairs) – the vacuum cleaner, the ironing board, the tool box, the sewing box, some art and craft material, gift-wrap, a selection of small presents appropriate for when our children are invited to classmates birthday parties.

How might we make space for Jesus under the stairs in Advent?

God has made each one of us with unique personality, unique gifts.  Perhaps you have been told that who you are is more of a liability than a positive feature: perhaps Advent needs to be a season to make space to hear, or hear again, God’s perspective.

Why not use Advent as an opportunity to ‘get out’ and ‘dust down’ gifts that you have been given, but which you haven’t used or exercised for a while?

Why not use Advent as an opportunity to ‘sort through’ gifts that you use on a regular basis:

by doing a spiritual health-check, including asking God what things he wants you to focus on, what things he wants you to teach someone else to do, and what things he wants you to lay down for someone else to take up;

or by investing in a particular gift by engaging with a training event (even if this means planning/booking on to an event in the new year) or relevant material in book/audio/video format?

Advent: making room for Jesus – under the stairs.

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