One time two new dining room chairs showed up on our front porch. They came in a large box with a lot of packaging. The chairs were all wrapped up and one was stacked upside down on top of the other. In between the two chairs was a box — maybe one foot by two feet. It was an ordinary cardboard box. It was closed and taped shut with packing tape. Printed on the outside of it were these words: “Void Filler.”
I was fascinated by this box. Here are two chairs, and then here is this box that is taped shut with the words “Void Filler” on it.
I carried it over to one of the chairs in the living room — it was very light — , set it down, and looked at it. This was much more interesting to me than the chairs.
It captured my imagination, because, really, when you think about it, this is what all the things that come in boxes promise implicitly, but this one just came out and said it out loud, right on the outside of the box — void filler. I couldn’t wait to see what was inside.
The truth is that most of us have been looking all our lives to fill the void, fill the emptiness inside, with things that come in boxes. This is literally the definition of the materialism that is so much a part of our culture: This thing in this box will fill the void in you.
And here I got this “void filler” thrown in with these two dining room chairs for free! I didn’t even order it.
The truth is I’ve been trying to fill the void with boxes all my life. I remember as a kid what it felt like to get that box with the Star Wars figure in it or the new pair of basketball shoes or the new game for my Intellivision. I know very well now as adult what it feels like to get a package in the mail.
I’ve been trying to fill the void with boxes my whole life:
Buying and opening boxes of things,
Standing on boxes so I can see,
Standing on boxes so I can be seen,
Checking all the right boxes.
It’s a fascinating and profound question: What is in this box labeled “Void Filler?”
It is Advent, and if you’re on your way to Bethlehem to see the baby Jesus, you ought to first go out there to the desert and listen to the preacher named John. Everybody’s going. According to the scripture huge crowds were gathering out there in the desert.
I think you ought to go out there, at least once, especially if you are serious about getting ready for the advent of Jesus this year.
When you get close to John, this is what you’re going to hear. He is going to say to you:
Brothers and sisters,
I’m not here to get you to join any church.
I’m not going to ask you to pledge anything.
I’m just a voice. And I’m telling you that the kingdom of God — the reign of God — is knocking at the door. And soon you’re going to meet God’s messiah.
Now this is what that messiah’s going to be like. He’s stronger than I am. If you think I’m strong, if you think my sermons are strong — calling on you to repent and get your lives in order — if you think that’s strong, you wait till he gets here.
He’s stronger than I am. And whenever he shows up he creates a moment of truth, a moment of reckoning, everywhere he goes.
Farmers know what it’s like to take a big fan and blow the chaff away from your wheat and burn up the chaff. That’s the way he works. Blow the clutter away.
You know what it’s like to take an ax and walk through the orchard and if you see a tree that’s not bearing any fruit you chop it down and burn it at the end of the orchard. Well that’s the way he works. Cut the clutter away. The ax is now at the root of the tree.
What John is saying is this: The advent of God is very near. Are you ready? Are you prepared for that?
I think if John were here, he might have something to say to us about the ways that we have all continued to try to fill the void with the things that come in boxes.
I think what John might say to us is something like this:
Drop all your boxes,
strip away all the stuff,
remove all the ornamentation and things you’ve
been using to cover over your true self,
let your life be clean and simple before God and
John might ask us these three crucial questions:
What things do we need to let go of in order to turn to God?
What things will help us on our journey to Bethlehem?
And what should we leave behind?
You can’t get to Bethlehem without going through the desert. As Fred Craddock put it, actually you can get to Bethlehem without going through the desert, but if you do, it won’t be Christmas.
It will just be another day with more boxes of stuff piled on top of what you already have.
What John the Baptist says to us reminds me of what Meister Eckhart said in the 13th century: God is not found in the soul by adding things but by subtraction.
Jamie and I have been reading an Advent devotional guide by Richard Rohr. For the last several days, it feels like Rohr has been speaking to me about all that I must let go of if I am to live a life with God. These are hard truths for me. I have been holding on so tight for so long. Can I really let go?
Maybe you’re wondering what was in the box? After a few days of looking at that box labeled “Void Filler” and leaving it sitting on a chair in the living room, I finally opened it. And — Do you know what? — it was empty. There never was anything in it at all. It was empty all along. It was really a disappointment.