Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Prepare Him Room

Prepare him room - now, not later
On Christmas Eve, right after we finish the last stanza of "Silent Night," and then blow out our candles, the lights blaze and we triumphally sing "Joy to the World!" - including the intriguing plea, "Let every heart prepare him room." One year I remember muttering, "Too late."

When Jesus came the first time, there was "no room in the inn." Sorry, full already. If we have any chance of Jesus getting into our lives, we'd best start today. Only 23 shopping days left? Only 23 getting ready for Jesus days left!

Your agenda probably involves bringing bags of things into your home: gifts to give, food to serve, coats for winter. But for me, the excess of Christmas in our culture reminds me that we suffer from an excess of stuff not just on Christmas morning but all year long.

And not just stuff. My time is jammed full, especially in December. My soul is crammed to overflow, not with simply joys, but with anxiety, impulses, cravings and wounds. To hang out a "vacancy" sign on my life, I'll have to do some clearing out. For me to say Yes to Jesus, I will have to say No to a few (or many) other things.

We fear not grabbing all we can, or staying on the move - but the greater, deeper fear might be that we never slow down, that we climb to the top of the ladder and realize (as Thomas Merton suggested) the ladder is leaning against the wrong wall.

So before we sing "Joy to the World" on the 24th, let's take inventory right now, on the 2nd, and get serious about "Prepare him room," or there won't be room. You can't squeeze in a little mini-Jesus in the cracks between an otherwise untransformed life. Just say No to this, to that, to the dazed craziness of December. Be still, know that God is God and you aren't. Breathe - and wait on Jesus.

Prepare him room - Christmas Lists

I'm a compulsive list-maker; I stay organized, and dig the satisfaction of marking through a task as "Done." At Christmas we make lists of things to do, gifts to purchase, places to be - and even things we might want for Christmas. Kids rattle off a wish list for Santa, who is himself "makin' a list and checkin' it twice."

Why do we exchange gifts at Christmas? I mean, we always have... but why? What's the purpose? During the Depression, kids got socks and coats they needed. Do we give to show our love? And why now?
What to give someone? Do I ask What do you want? Do we simplify (for ourselves) and settle on the gift card - the self-evident purpose being "so he can get whatever he wants"? Is Christmas about getting what we want? The world didn't ask for an infant - but that's what God sent.

Do we really need (in our souls) more gadgets and clothing options? Jewelry and toys? I love Amy Grant's carol, "Grown up Christmas List." She sings of being beyond "childhood fantasies - but we still need help somehow, the heart still dreams." So her grownup Christmas list, "not for myself, but for a world in need": "No more lives torn apart, time healing each heart, everyone has a friend, love never ends... Packages and bows can never heal a hurting soul."

What is needed this Christmas? What do you need? What do those on your list really need? Can we give not what they superficially want, but what they need deep inside? Can we discover gifts that are genuine blessings? Perhaps something precious we already own, long unspoken words written, a prayer, something made with our own hands, something that might lead the other person to know this Jesus?

Let every heart prepare him room. Can we prepare a list that might be more about blessing than accumulating? Is there a way I can give my very own self, my deeper, spiritual self, appealing to the other person's deeper, spiritual self? That's what God gave us the 1st Christmas: God's own self, reaching out to our inner self, inviting us to love, to belong, and to hope. Spiritually speaking, might there be a grown up Christmas list this year?

Here's Amy Grant singing "My Grown Up Christmas List."

Prepare him room - like Joseph

When I was a little boy, I tried out for the part of Joseph in the Christmas pageant. Some other kid landed the role, and I wound up as a baahhing sheep.

Absolutely no acting skill would be required to play Joseph! He just stands there, no lines, no dramatic gestures, just peering over Mary's shoulder into the manger, holding the reins of the donkey.

We don't know much about Joseph - and the little we know seems ridiculously inconsequential. And perhaps God's highest calling is for us to be like Joseph. He was simply there; for him it was enough to be close to Jesus. "As for me, it is good to be near God" (Psalm 73:25). Our world insists, "It's all about you." But in God's upside-down culture, it's not about you. It's about Jesus - and the genuine fulfillment of You is simply to stick as close to Jesus as possible.

Something else on Joseph's spiritual resume: he did not rush to judgment, or judge at all. Mary looked terribly guilty. Joseph had good cause to "expose her to public disgrace," and to divorce her (Matthew 1:19). But he was quiet, and prayerful enough, to be in sync with God's Spirit on this one, and so he refused to pass judgment.

How do we "Prepare him room"? Your mind, if it's like mine, drifts easily to little critical barbs, even if we don't say them out loud. I seem to be adept at finding fault, and zeroing in on what's wrong with everybody else. We might combat this with the famed words from Pogo: "We have met the enemy, and he is us."
But Jesus is even better: he came not to knock off your enemies, or to expose the enemy that is us. Jesus came so we would not have enemies. "Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend; we get rid of an enemy by getting rid of enmity" (Martin Luther King). Jesus is all love - and the way to prepare for him, to let him be in you fully, is to get rid of enmity.

A judgmental thought rings your doorbell? Don't answer. A critical remark hangs on your lips? Hush. An ugly observation, about somebody out there, someone you love, or even yourself, suggests itself? Take a breath, and imagine Joseph hovering lovingly next to Mary, whom he could have despised, and over Jesus, God's love bundled in the manger.

Then cling to those donkey reins, and be still in the presence of the Lord.