Let Every Heart Prepare Him Room: Opening, Dec 24
As we come to the final day of the Advent Season, a line from the song “O Little Town of Bethlehem” puts things in perspective.
“Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting Light. The hopes and fears of all the years are met in Thee tonight.”
The hope of eternity is that we will have a living, real, vital relationship with God. Indeed, the hope is that we will have room in our hearts for God in which life makes sense in some deep, intuitive way. We want to know Him. The fear of eternity is that we will miss out on Him and life will be a waste. We fear a meaningless existence. Whether we’ve ever fully been able to articulate it that way, this is our core hope and core fear. Life only makes sense in the context of relationship with God where our sense of well-being is secure, our worth is affirmed, and our vision is clear. In Jesus, the light of hope cuts through the darkness of fear. The words of John 1:4-5 develop this theme of light:
“In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
Clearly, in this life, we continually seek a sense of light. We look for stories that can unify and explain what is going on in life. We live our lives with a sense of story. It might be something like a national story that tells why we do what we do in a certain country. It might be a family story that says, “We do (insert some activity) because we are the (insert family name) and we are (insert some character quality).” It might be a personal sense of story of which we are only vaguely aware. It could be that we will only be happy if such and such happens in our life. It could be that things never go well for us because we just don’t have what it takes to make it in this world. It could be that we will always be successful because we are better than others. Whatever the stories, we are guided be a sense of story. Stories give us a sense of light.
The challenge is that the stories we hold either affirm the one true story of the universe (our deepest hope of doing life with God) or they affirm our deepest fear (which is that we will miss out). The story of Christmas, that God injected Himself into human story so that we could do life with Him, is the story. It is the one story that makes sense of all things. It is the one story that gives us light. Often, it is only a sliver of light but it is the only story that rings true in our souls.
As we think back to Revelation 3 and the picture of Jesus standing at the door of our hearts, He says open your hearts as you:
“buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see.” (Revelation 3:16-18)
The first encouragement was to acquire gold refined by fire … to pursue the riches of doing life with Him by using our resources to be a blessing to others. This opens space in our hearts as we let go of “things” as something to be possessed. The second encouragement was to clothe ourselves with His love … to allow Him to love us as we let go of shame which can also crowd our hearts.
Finally, Jesus encourages us to acquire “salve to anoint the eyes.” The idea here is that we have a tendency to live by inferior stories and those stories end up darkening our vision. We may think that we are “seeing” but we keep bumping up against others. We keep stubbing our toes against our pursuits in life. Jesus offers us a story which is like salve on the eyes … it gives us the ability to see. In Matthew 6:22-24, Jesus speaks of light and story that money can make us happy:
“The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”
What Jesus is exposing is that we often have an affinity to stories that really just keep us in the dark. This is a danger in general and the more specific danger is that we will try to have two stories. We will try to have our own story (that we can be happy through _________) and the Christmas story. Our thinking is often that Jesus will sprinkle his magic “blessing dust” on our stories and make them work. Author Anthony Bloom expresses the reality of the situation like this: “We would like just one touch of heaven blue in the general picture of our life, in which there are so many dark sides … but He is not prepared to be simply part of our life.” Indeed, Jesus said: “you cannot serve God and money.”
Jesus wasn’t try to be mean or petty. He was graciously stating fact: as long as we hold on to the old stories, there just simply isn’t room in our hearts for His story. Are there old perspectives and opinions and stories to which you are clinging? Are you ready to make room in your heart for the Christ story?
Helen Keller, a remarkable woman who also happened to be blind, said: “The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision.” She was also asked “isn’t it terrible to be blind?” And she said, “It is better to be blind and see with your heart than to have two eyes and see nothing.”
We apply the salve to our eyes as we walk by faith rather than by sight (2 Cor 5:7). In this context, sight is looking with our natural eyes … allowing the lenses of earthly stories to interpret what we see. Faith is looking at life with His eyes … allowing His story to interpret and define what we see. In 2 Corinthians 4:16-18, the Apostle Paul writes:
“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”
The glory of beginning to see with His eyes is that we begin to see Him everywhere … we begin to connect the dots and see that He has been present all along. He is at work in us. He is weaving together a story that we won’t fully see until eternity but the beauty is that His life, His presence, in the midst of it all is the story. That is the light! Seeing Him and knowing that He is near is all we need. At times, we might claim that we want more but He alone is truly sufficient, i.e., satisfying, to our souls. It can be a bit terrifying to let go of old stories … those narratives which seem to give us a sense of comfort. A. W. Tozer said:
“Hardly anything else reveals so well the fear and uncertainty among men as the length to which they will go to hide their true selves from each other and even from their own eyes. Almost all men live from childhood to death with a semiopaque curtain, coming out briefly only when forced by some emotional shock and then retreating as quickly as possible into hiding again … Self-knowledge is so critically important to us in our pursuit of God and His righteousness that we lie under heavy obligation to do immediately whatever is necessary to remove the disguise and permit our real selves to be known.”
As a final step in preparing room in your heart, take a few minutes today and ask the Father for some self-knowledge. Is there a “story” that you’ve been using to light your way that is not part of God’s story? Is there a story that you need to release today? Pay attention to anxiety, anger, fear, and shame. If you notice them, ask God to show you a story you might release. Stand blind before Him, putting all your “lights” down. Let go of all else and ask Him for faith to see with His light. His light is simple: God with us. Nothing more, nothing less. His presence is all we need. Be attentive to His presence today by simply reminding your heart: God is with me.
Father, I open myself to you. Letting go of all else, I come to you with empty, open hands. I entrust myself to You, believing that true riches, true worth, and true vision come only from You. Yes, Lord, have Your way in me. Thank You for Jesus who redeems me from the pit of self and into the joy of You. Amen.
*tomorrow we close our Advent Reflections with one final Christmas Reflection.