Let Every Heart Prepare Him Room…
As you’ve probably noticed from my messages these past few years, I am a person who can be deeply inspired by music and the meaningful texts that accompany it. This year is no exception, as I find myself once again finding a powerful message in some of the music that the Christmas season has to offer.
One perennial favorite of mine (as I’m sure it is of many others) is the universally acclaimed and well-known Christmas Carol “Joy to the World.” This song first appeared in 1719 in a literary work entitled The Psalms of David: Imitated in the language of the New Testament, and applied to the Christian state and worship, by English clergyman, Theologian and hymn writer Isaac Watts. During the 17th Century, musical arrangements of this text were published several times, bearing little resemblance to the tune we would recognize today.
An 1836 anthology of Occasional Psalms and Hymn Tunes, published by Boston-based American composer, church musician and educator Lowell Mason, printed the text and tune pretty much as we know it today. The version exactly as we know it today comes from an 1848 version of the periodical The American Psalmist, which was edited by Mason himself. Both of these sources list the name of the tune as “Antioch” and Mason attributes to the great British composer of the previous century, George Frederick Händel. (As a side note, Lowell Mason was the man responsible for introducing music education into the Boston Public School system.)
Watts’ original text was meant to be a free interpretation of the 96th and 98th Psalms, which mention the coming of the Lord and the charge to all creatures of the earth, as well as the heavens and nature itself to shout out to the Lord joyfully. The final verse also alludes to God’s punishment of the first man Adam, as recorded in Genesis 3:17-18. It depicts a beautiful scene in which all the heavens and the earth rejoice at the arrival of the newly-arrived Jesus and although there is no explicit reference to the Incarnation or the Nativity per se, the text itself lends itself beautifully to the Christmas story and the Good News of the birth of our Lord.
One of my favorite lines from this carol is “Let earth receive her King; let every heart prepare him room…” Let every heart prepare him room.
Try to think back to a time when you knew something was arriving or something big was about to change in your life – something new was coming. Perhaps it was when you transitioned from one job to another, or you moved to a new home, began a new hobby or you simply decided it was time to redecorate your surroundings in a new style.
All of us have found ourselves at one point or another in any number of these type of situations – situations of the sort where we find ourselves on the cusp of something new or daring, something that promises to change our lives, represent a new beginning or a departure from old circumstances. Whether we have pursued an education, gotten married, welcomed children, embarked on a new career, moved to a new country or what have you, there is an air of anticipation and excitement surrounding these novelties. This is precisely because each in its own way promises something new, to open up a new horizon before us and to bring us to new territories where we will (hopefully) be furnished with new possibilities and surroundings.
This continuous “regeneration” of our life circumstances is part of the joy and mystery of our life. We do not remain static throughout our lives, rather God takes us on a long journey, the course of which is charted with new designation points and destinations along the way. Of course, there are some things that remain constant, including the skills, life lessons and pieces of wisdom we pick up along the way.
Yet there is one thing all of the above have in common: they require preparation. And more specifically, they require an “out with the old, in with new mentality.” Preparing room for the new thing that is coming down the turnpike.
Your decorations from the old office don’t match the décor of the new one. You need to make space for all those new materials you bought for that new hobby. A new family member is arriving and it’s time to clean out the old rec room to make room for a nursery. This means taking stock, making decisions… Preparing room.
When we think of the Incarnation of our Savior, therefore, we must understand that the impact the arrival of the Savior of the world would have on us is decidedly no less powerful when it comes to our spiritual lives. If he is to come and abide in us, then naturally we need to make some preparations for him. This is why I am so moved by the reminder that at the arrival of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world and the savior of my heart, I need to prepare room for him.
Each one of us is responsible for welcoming and re-welcoming our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ into our hearts at Christmastime and throughout the year. When we welcome him into our heart and ask him to be Lord of our life, we must therefore expect to have to prepare room for him to live inside there. So, we must then ask the question: in order to prepare this room, of what must we rid our hearts in order to do so?
Simply put, “the old self.” Saint Paul writes in letter to the Ephesians, “…Put away your former way of life, your old self, corrupt and deluded by lusts, and… be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and… clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:22-24)
When we get rid of our old self, which is “corrupt and deluded by lusts,” we make room for Christ to come into our hearts and create a new, holy and righteous person within us. Can you take a minute to think of certain aspects of your life that you would like to assign to the “old self pile” (in other words, the no longer needed “discard in the trash” pile)?
Is it that bad cursing habit you have? That one secret addiction or vice that nobody knows about but is hurting your relationship with your families? Gossiping about and slandering others? That grudge you still hold against that person because you simply aren’t able (or willing) to forgive? Apathy towards your faith? Pushing sexual boundaries to impropriety? Your temper? Your resentments? Your fears? Your despair?
There can be many other examples, but we shall suffice to say that all of the above mentioned things are part of what Saint Paul refers to as “the old self” and must be removed from our hearts and lives if we are to truly prepare room for Jesus Christ to come dwell in us.
Therefore, dearly beloved, during this holy season of our Lord’s birth and revelation, let us joyfully prepare room in our hearts for the arriving Savior of the World, Jesus Christ, by asking him to remove our old, corrupted ways of thinking and living, and establishing us as new creatures for his service and the glory of his heavenly kingdom. Amen.
Fr. Stephan Baljian, Pastor
Feast of Holy Nativity & Theophany
January 6, 2020
On Sunday afternoon, January 5, 2020, parishioners of Saint Gregory Armenian Apostolic Church gathered to begin the celebration of the Holy Nativity & Theophany (Birth & Revelation) of our Lord Jesus Christ. Following the Mid-day (Jashoo) & Evening Services, as evening drew near, students of Saint Gregory Church's Sunday/Armenian School read the ten readings from the Old Testament foretelling the birth and revelation of the promised Messiah, who was born in a stable in Bethlehem more than 2,000 years ago. This services is known as Jrakalooyts because it traditionally takes place during the lighting of the church lanterns on Christmas and Easter Eves.
At the conclusion of the Jrakalooyts readings, the altar curtain was drawn and amid a joyful atmosphere the Christmas Eve Divine Liturgy began. Young and old joined together in singing "Christ is born and revealed!" At the conclusion of the Divine Liturgy, the students led the procession of the choir, deacons, Der Hayr and all the faithful to Jaffarian Hall where a beautiful Christmas Eve (khutoom) table had been set. Der Hayr read the final Gospel reading about the shepherds and the angels, after which our "spiritual home" of Saint Gregory Church was blessed (bread, water and salt).
In his remarks, Der Hayr reminded the faithful that it was not enough that the shepherds heard the glad tidings of the angels. Not only were they moved to get up and say, "Let us go to Bethlehem," but also once they had encountered the new-born Lord and Savior, they went away praising God and proclaiming the good news -- as they had no doubt learned from the angels. He reminded the joyous crowd that they too needed to sing "Glory to God in the highest" tonight, so that the fallen world would hear the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ.
The following morning, Monday, the faithful once again gathered for the solemn Holy Divine Liturgy on the occasion of our Lord's Holy Nativity and Theophany. A delicious luncheon, hosted by the Board of Trustees, followed in Jaffarian Hall.
This past holiday season, Saint Gregory Armenian Apostolic Church, in conjunction with our Prelacy, once again participated in the program to aid needy Armenian families with food and groceries during the New Year/Christmas seasons. Under the leadership of (Holy See of Cilicia) Christian Education Department chair, Very Rev. Fr. Zareh Sarkissian, for the second year this program was enacted in order to take into consideration the difficult economic circumstances in Lebanon and the struggle for many Armenian families to get by with limited opportunity for employment.
As in the past year, an appeal was made to all the Prelacies of the Catholicosate for support of this program, by which a donation of $100 (U.S.) would sponsor a family with sufficient groceries for the home.
Last year's donation of $500 was generated from the revenues received by the previous year's National Representative Assembly, which was hosted by our parish, and was made in honor of Saint Michael's Church (our next door neighbors), expressing our appreciation for their generous donation of use of the church's meeting hall for one of the sessions of the Assembly.
This year, following a special appeal by Der Hayr made over two Sundays in December, our parishioners generously donated $780 toward this important program.
Below, we provide a copy of the thank you letter received by our Prelate, His Eminence Archbishop Anoushavan Tanielian.
I praise the Almighty, who made it possible for the whole of mankind and the Armenian people to welcome the year 2020. In general, years and feasts seem a calendar repetition. Yet for us, rational beings, they are a wonderful opportunity for both a renewal and a reassessment of life with a different understanding.
With this understanding, I want to contemplate the year 2020 through the lens of the three magi who are headed to Bethlehem: the three magi, who represent their contemporary society’s religious and royal class as well as that of those who studied the movements of celestial bodies. In other words, our days’ astronomers and scientists are a wonderful example of hope for mankind, with their consistent and conscious labor of research.
It was no coincidence that the star headed to the manger was revealed to the three magi. They were conducting long studies, which were crowned with their gift of the celestial mystery. And once they revealed that heavenly gift, they dutifully set out for a long and treacherous journey, full of hope, which was finally rewarded—oh, miracle!—with the message of the highest reverence, kneeling before the manger and presenting their loving gifts to the king of kings, the lord of lords, the infant Jesus Christ.
This is what serious and thoughtful research and examination means, dear compatriots, with persistence and unshakable hope in mankind. And I believe that, under this light, 2019 was indeed a promising year.
Following long decades of joint work by all our community organizations—ecclesiastical, lay, political—what a great news it was that the House of Representatives and the Senate of the United States unanimously accepted and recognized the Armenian Genocide as an unobjectionable and indisputable truth.
Who believed that a few years after the Genocide the first Armenian republic would be founded? Who believed that the Soviet order would collapse and that our current republic would be established? This is, dear compatriots, what living with engagement and hope means.
I want the year 2020 to be flooded with this truth, because we, as we remind you in our diary, this year we will observe the centenary of the Treaty of Sèvres, steeped in the spirit of the second centenary of the birth of Khrimian Hayrig. Yes, we must never surrender before the difficulties of daily life. On the contrary, as I said, with our gaze fixed on the celestial star headed to Bethlehem, that is, with persistence and hope and diligent collective work, we will surely fulfill our dreams.
With this belief, this hope and this love, as Paul the Apostle says, when you put your hands to the plough, always look forward. We too, along with the three magi, let us head towards the realization of our first call to Jesus Christ and let us say to each other on Jan. 6, “Christ is born and revealed!”. And with that spirit of renewal in the year 2020, let us be able as Armenians, as Christian Armenians, renovate ourselves in our pilgrimage from life to the eternal life.
One more time, I wish you all a Happy New Year and Merry Christmas. Christ is born and revealed! Blessed is the revelation of Christ!
Prelate of the Eastern Prelacy of the United States
New Year & Christmas 2020