Let’s take a few moments and ponder all the myriad things that had to be prepared before a presumably exhausted Mary and harried Joseph stepped into the little town of Bethlehem on the very first Christmas.
Roman edicts went out. Families filled available inns. Shepherds spent their lives with the daily ritual of keeping watch over their sheep. Prophets recorded promises whispered for generations. Somebody built a manger. Somebody prepared swaddling clothes. Somebody lived with an eye to the stars and a heart looking for God.
So many people in first-century Bethlehem had no idea that they were preparing the backdrop for the greatest redemption story ever told. Our lives are the sum of their beautiful, often mundane, everyday moments. And with that sum, God brings His magnificent, multiplying grace. He turns a humble manger into a King’s cradle. He transforms a teenager into a divinely appointed mother. He takes smelly shepherds and commissions them to be the first ambassadors of His good news.
We’re just about to pull down the Christmas decorations from the attic. We’ll fluff up the artificial tree for one more year. We’ll drink hot chocolate and listen to Christmas favorites. We’ll set up the manger scene, where everyone is frozen in reverence and even the barnyard animals are cute and cherubic.
I used to view decoration as something to simply do, on a long list of getting ready for the season. Christmas didn’t start until all the decorations were up and the house looked pristine. But now I realize that this act of decoration is in itself a celebration. Preparation is holy. We prepare our hearts for Advent, for a focusing on Jesus, for these festive and hallowed holy days.
“A voice of one calling: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. And the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all people will see it together. For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.’ ” —Isaiah 40:3-5
The prophet Isaiah tells us that, even when in a wilderness, we can prepare the way for the Lord. Is your heart in a wilderness? Does your life seem like a desert? Even there, preparation is holy. In the wilderness and in the desert, the Lord reveals His glory.
May your decorating be a holy endeavor. As you pull out the twinkling lights and hang the ornaments, may it be a time to prepare your heart for the arrival of Jesus the Messiah. Our decor will by no means be perfect—little fingerprints will smudge and daily life will clutter. But each perfectly imperfect space can remind us that God joins us in our harried, exhausted, everyday moments in this wonderful adventure of Advent.
Behold the wonder of the Light of the world becoming one of His people to rescue His people. Believe that He has a personal, intense delight in you and how you celebrate His birth this year. Become His hands and feet as you share the light of Jesus in this pandemic-exhausted world.
Join the company of those who prepare for Jesus. Build a manger. Light a candle. Prepare your heart. Turn your eyes upon Jesus.
He did not wait till the world was ready,
till men and nations were at peace.
He came when the Heavens were unsteady,
and prisoners cried out for release.
He did not wait for the perfect time.
He came when the need was deep and great.
He dined with sinners in all their grime,
turned water into wine.
He did not wait till hearts were pure.
In joy he came to a tarnished world of sin and doubt.
To a world like ours, of anguished shame
he came, and his Light would not go out.
He came to a world which did not mesh,
to heal its tangles, shield its scorn.
In the mystery of the Word made Flesh
the Maker of the stars was born.
We cannot wait till the world is sane
to raise our songs with joyful voice,
for to share our grief, to touch our pain,
He came with Love: Rejoice! Rejoice!
—Madeleine L’Engle, A Cry Like a Bell