Given that my name is Joy, the traditional Christmas hymn “Joy to the World” always captivated me as a child—the triumphant sound of it, the fun and simplicity of repeating phrases, and especially, my name wrapped up in all that holiday robustness. Now in my late twenties, the song captivates me still—but for different reasons.
This year at Advent, I’ve mulled over the line, “let every heart prepare him room.” It is a phrase formed for Advent rather than Christmas morning, when ready or not, here He comes. It’s easy to be caught unawares at Christmastime when we are busy with the bustle of the season, or bogged down by our own personal hardships. The shepherds watching their flocks when a blazing choir of angels showed up on that cold desert night probably weren’t actively preparing their hearts for their long-awaited Savior—so long-awaited that perhaps the promise of him was merely a faint outline on the walls of their hearts.
A couple Sundays ago in church, I noticed that there wasn’t much room in my heart for the King of the Universe, or even for a little baby God in a manger. My heart has been filled to the brim with anxiety and self-pity; six months after receiving my master’s degree I find myself still jobless and teetering on the edge of despair (with the face of despair looking like getting a job at Starbucks). I’ve been angry at God and afraid to tell him that, knowing that I can’t blame my problems on him, knowing I’m not the only one dealing with unemployment and facing the prospect of regressing on my career path to the menial jobs of my teen years.
But pondering my crowded heart made me wonder what it was like for those shepherds, when the last thing they expected that night was to hear this news that shook the cosmos and their very hearts. Did they feel ashamed at the thoughts they were thinking just before the heralding angel made the announcement—grumbling thoughts, hateful thoughts, despairing thoughts, anxious thoughts? Did the tidings of great joy evaporate the fog in their hearts? Did they have to make room for it, or after hearing their Savior was born, was there room for anything else? Did the peace on earth the angels sang over them bring peace to their souls?
Shepherds are ready for anything, I suppose—a wolf coming to pick off one of their sheep, a flash flood, a sick ewe or a lost lamb. So when it was time for the earth to receive her king, for the fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains to repeat the sounding joy, they may have been more prepared than most. Perhaps that’s why they were the ones to get the full treatment, the angel chorus and the hand delivered message. Most of us aren’t like those shepherds. Even in hard times we get stuck so easily; our expectations are dulled and we close off to opportunities and change. The past few months of my job hunt have me now expecting the worst, expecting rejection or no call back at all. If God chose to surprise me with some goodness, would I be ready to receive it?
However, ‘tis the season of Advent, and I am thankful in my glum little heart because Advent prepares us for the time when anything’s possible. We sing “Joy to the World, the Lord is come!” and we’re reminded to make room in our hearts for the wonders of His love, wonders that come wrapped up in flesh, in the form of a faithful and true savior who makes his blessings flow as far as the curse is found. In her short poem “After Annunciation,” Madeleine L’Engle writes:
This is the irrational season
When love blooms bright and wild.
Had Mary been filled with reason
There’d have been no room for the child.
It might be reasonable to worry about our unemployment, or our sick parent, or our floundering relationship. But even so, let’s make room this Advent: room in our most wintry hearts for wild sprouts of love; room in the midst of our chaotic lives for unexpected peace; room in the darkest days of the year for the long-awaited flame of grace to light our way.
Note: I wrote this a few weeks ago, before the Sandy Hook tragedy. Much has changed since then, and my grief over those events have made room in my heart to receive a loving and wise King whose rule never ends. I’ve noticed that the Advent sentiment of “Come, Lord Jesus” has naturally rolled off many tongues in light of the horror in Newtown, which woke us up to the desperate condition of our country and, really, humanity. What do you think? Have you been able to prepare Him room this Advent? Did the tragedy at Sandy Hook change your perspective at all?