The classic Christmas hymn ‘Joy to the World’ is always a mark that the holiday season is upon us. I love how, well...joyful it is. Joy--one of the fruits of the Spirit-- is something I think we always desire more of, and often can seem so elusive. We sing about it, we want it, we know that Jesus’ coming brings it, but I think a lot of the time we don’t know how to experience it, or even more, to live it. But here’s something cool that we might miss if we don’t pay attention to the words of this song that we probably know like the back of our hands: it actually gives us instructions for how to experience the joy that is coming to the world. “Let every heart prepare Him room.”
If we are to experience the joy of Jesus, there is preparation involved. There is an intentionality, a structuring, an ordering of our own hearts that precedes the endless joy that the birth of Christ brings. And that preparation can be one of the hardest things to do in the time we are in. It’s Christmas break, 2020 has been a whirlwind, and our lives--even though breaks suggest that there is a slowing or a stopping--seem to be moving faster than ever.
It’s so natural for me to live my life reacting to the things in front of me. I see an ad for something and I click ‘buy.’ I see my phone on the table and I reach for it. I see a text from a friend to grab a bite to eat and I go. I see a comment or a headline that makes me upset, and I tweet. Reacting means I spend more, watch more, scroll more, say more, do more.
But lately, I’ve been mulling on a little phrase in 1 Thessalonians 4. Verse 11 says, “Make it your goal to live a quiet life…” And this is such a stark contrast to the life I dream about and that the world promises us. But I can’t help but wonder, is living a quiet life one of the keys to preparing him room, and thus to experiencing His joy? The song is referring to the fact that there was no room prepared for Mary and Joseph at the Inn in Bethlehem. It makes me think of John’s version of the Christmas story found in John 1:9-10:
“The one who is the true light, who gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him. He came to his own people, and even they rejected him.”
And this mirrors how Jesus promises He will return. In Revelation 16:15, He says, “Look, I will come as unexpectedly as a thief! Blessed are all who are watching for me, who keep their clothing ready…”
To me, preparing Him room means that instead of reacting to the things the world places in front of me, I respond to life according to what I have intentionally set my gaze on. That way, when Jesus comes, I am ready. I have made space for him to take the throne of my life, even though this world offers so many alternatives that will fill your time and brain if you let them. Instead of giving my best time to the TV, or my phone, or even sometimes my friends and family, I give my best to the Lord. I say ‘no’ to things so that I can give my best ‘yes’ to Him, which in turn makes those things that I initially said ‘no’ to better the next time around. Instead of giving my money to another thing I don’t really need, I can give my money to the ones who are on Jesus’ heart. Instead of giving my thoughts over to anxiety, or fear, or hopelessness, I intentionally turn my thoughts to His Word and quiet myself to listen for His voice. I don’t think God needs our permission to move, but I think He likes it. Giving Him room in our lives is like an invitation, saying, “Come and do what only you can do. I don’t want to miss a thing.”
Two people in Scripture who really model this intentional preparation of their hearts are the Mary’s. Mary, the mother of Jesus, and Mary Magdalene, who did life with Jesus and the disciples during his ministry. Twice in the book of Luke, Luke tells that Mary the mother of Jesus “stored all these things in her heart and thought about them often.” Mary, a young girl, had found favor with God (Luke 1:28). Have you ever wondered why? We aren’t told specifics, but we do get a picture of how Mary lives her life. Elizabeth tells her, “You are blessed because you believed the Lord would do what he said” (1:45). Mary intentionally lives by faith, and postures her heart with gratitude and remembrance. Jesus’ mother treasured her moments with Jesus, in awe as God fulfilled the promise He made her. To be able to store things in your heart, there has to be room there to begin with. You have to be looking for things to treasure. And you have to practice gratitude as an action.
Mary Magdalene, a friend of Jesus, also postured herself in a way that reflects preparing Him room. In Luke 10:38-42, we see a really beautiful picture of the heart Jesus desires. It says that Jesus visits the home of sisters Mary and Martha. Mary “sat at the Lord’s feet, listening to what He taught. But Martha was distracted by the big dinner she was preparing. She came to Jesus and said, ‘Lord, doesn’t it seem unfair to you that my sister just sits here while I do all the work? Tell her to come and help me.’ But the Lord said to her, ‘My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.’”
Mary Magdalene knew that her best ‘yes’ was not to give her time and attention to the hustle, to proving something, to the frantic way we try to get things done, or even to meeting all the needs of people around her. She knew Jesus was coming, and she was prepared to be seen unfavorably in the eyes of the world--by the world’s standard of women in that time, and even of her sister’s standard for her--in order to sit at the feet of Jesus and treasure him.
Living like the Mary’s--intentional, prepared, full of faith, gratefully, and without a care for what others might think-- is hard. All of that has a cost. If it were easy, we’d all be pros, right? I know that for me, preparing Him room is still one of the things I struggle with most. It’s so much simpler to live by the world’s standards and continue to check off the things that we think make our lives significant. It is simpler, but also is the opposite of the abundant life Jesus came and died for us to have. And here’s the thing: I don’t want to miss what God wants to do. I don’t want to miss what He has to say. I don’t want to miss the sheer joy of simply sitting at His feet. So let every heart--let my heart--prepare Him room this Christmas season, and see what joy we experience when He fills that space.
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