Tonight is the night.
Christmas Eve means different things to so many people throughout the ages. It’s the centerpiece of famous poems and song lyrics. It’s the night of magic and trips to and from the North Pole. It’s a time we are filled with joy and gratitude for the people we have nearby. It’s a time we are filled with sorrow for the people we are separated from. For some, it’s a night of presents and setting out cookies. For others, it’s a night of midnight church services. For all Christians, it’s a time of remembering the personhood of Jesus – when the Word became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14). It is a time to receive Jesus into our hearts as He was received into a manger the night of His birth.
This year, I have spent a lot of time reflecting on what it means to receive Jesus this Christmas, specifically trying to identify the things that keep me from receiving Jesus in His fullness. Each Christmas season, I find myself spending many hours preparing my house with decorations and large amounts of money preparing gifts, but I don’t always allocate the same resources to preparing myself to encounter the Christ Child. It’s a pretty basic one, but Joy to the World remains one of my very favorite Christmas hymns. On the opening chorus, its lyrics state:
Joy to the world! The Lord is come
Let earth receive her King!
Let every heart prepare Him room
And heaven and nature sing
These lyrics have led me to a simple question: How can my heart prepare Him room this Christmas?
By engaging this topic with vulnerability and gentleness, I can identify a few of the things that keep me isolated when I desire His nearness:
- Woundedness: We all carry hurts from life. Suffering finds every heart and affects us in ways we may not even know. Does the holiday season bring up memories of disappointment, abandonment, fear, or longing? Do you feel yourself being more defensive, more on guard, more anxious, or more sensitive than other moments throughout the year? Ask the Holy Spirit to give you the courage to be gentle and patient with yourself. Give yourself the space to sit quietly and remind yourself you are safe in the Father’s arms when you begin to feel overwhelmed. Remember the words of the Angel Gabriel, “Do not be afraid, for you have found favor with God.” (Luke 1:30)
- Attachments: Where do you run to for comfort? Perhaps it’s a mindless Christmas movie with an idealized love story. Maybe it’s your Instagram feed full of family photos in Christmas-coordinated apparel. Maybe it’s raw cookie dough during a day of holiday baking. There is certainly a place for our simple pleasures as we rest and take a step back from our normal daily routines. That said, are these simple pleasures rightly ordered? Are we taking in things that lead us to give praise, or are we seeking comfort and numbing through worldly avenues? Jesus came into the world to give us freedom – freedom from sin first and foremost, but also the freedom to truly live (John 10:10). If you find yourself seeking an escape, invite Jesus to join you in that place.
- Sin: In my experience, sin is not always at the forefront of our conversations around Christmas. We tend to dwell in worlds of joy, hope, angels, shepherds, and Bethlehem. However, what better way is there to prepare Him room than to confess wholeheartedly our utter desperate need for a Savior? How much truer is my praise to Emmanuel when I realize the magnitude of God becoming man for my salvation? One of the most beautiful and simple ways to make room to receive Jesus this Christmas is to make an act of confession. As 1 John 1:9 reminds us, “If we acknowledge our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from every wrongdoing.” What sin patterns do you desire to be liberated from? Confess in humility the things that have kept you from intimacy with Christ. Sit back and be flooded with His grace, mercy, and joy at your turning to Him.
- Unforgiveness: Bitterness towards those who have hurt us, resentment regarding current circumstances, and envy of what others have that we do not can take up a lot of square footage in the room of our hearts. In order to prepare Him room, we have to ask ourselves if we are carrying unforgiveness in our hearts. It can be helpful to reflect and determine if there are doors to our hearts we have locked from the inside as a result of hurt, betrayal, or self-protection. “Be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ.” (Ephesians 4:32). Let this Christmas be a time of true rebirth in your heart. Let the hardened parts become soft. Let us be childlike. We do have to forget past hurts, but with Jesus’ grace we can seek movements towards restoration.
This Christmas Eve, I am in the back seat of my family’s Chevy Suburban. We are on our way home from Christmas Eve mass. Dolly Parton’s rendition of “Go Tell it On the Mountain” is playing in the background. On repeat. Loudly. It’s a scene very similar to almost every Christmas Eve of my life. As I ride in the back seat, I’ll reflect on these questions and seek in earnest ways I might become more docile to the Holy Spirit and more awakened to the work Christ would do in me.
I’ll seek to see my wounds with a Biblical memory, reminding myself that Jesus too still bore His scars after the Resurrection. When I am tempted to check out, I will lean in, embracing the fullness and vivacity of life before me. I’ll be quick to say sorry to those I hurt and repent when I inevitably behave selfishly or speak an unkind word. I’ll choose to forgive quickly and immediately when I find myself on the receiving end of a harsh action.
As I contemplate Jesus coming into the room of my heart, I am reminded of a beautiful image given to us in C.S. Lewis’ words:
“Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.”
Joy to the world, the Savior reigns!