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