Most of what I've been thinking about this Advent has had to do with waiting. But waiting for something outside myself. Waiting for God to show up in the world.
What about waiting for something to change within me?
Let every heart prepare him room, "Joy to the World" proclaims.
What does that really MEAN? To prepare room in your heart?
Under more consideration, I realize that this isn't as foreign a concept as I'm making it out to be. It's actually a concept we know very well; we've prepared room in our hearts for countless people (and animals) throughout our lives. But I think in the cases of finding a new friend or falling in love or adopting a dog or having a child, it doesn't feel like we're preparing room for them--they simply show up in our lives, whether we planned it or not, and suddenly, without question, they matter. Or maybe it takes a little time to get used to their presence, but before we know it we can't imagine them not being part of us.
Either way, I don't know if I've ever considered it to be active preparation in the heart department; sure, logistically we can buy the dog bed or prepare the nursery, and yes, emotionally we can go to college expecting to make friends, or head out for a date hoping that there will be mutual attraction. But when you're in the moment, that's when the heart gets involved. Being swept along by a tide of connection or passion or love or this-person/animal-is-suddenly-in-my-life-and-I-need-to-embrace-it-because-I'm-responsible-for-keeping-her/him/it-alive. Seems like it happens when we meet the person, or after, that we find more space in our heart--not beforehand.
So I think that's why I find it interesting that we're told to prepare room for the Lord in our hearts during this waiting stage--compounded by the fact that Jesus Christ isn't your average flesh-and-blood person who you can get to know over drinks. (Dunno about you, but at least I can't). If it's hard to prepare our hearts for the average human, how can we prepare our hearts for the everlasting Lord?
Maybe some of it has to be the "logistics"--praying the hours or lighting the Advent candles, reading the Scripture passages and singing the hymns. Those open the way for us to open ourselves. And then it's hearing the story, imagining God come to earth as infant. In the case of our congregation and probably many others, it's seeing two parents lift their own new baby, wrapped in swaddling clothes, toward the sky as "Hark! the Herald Angels Sing" echoes from the rafters. In that moment, something is sacred about real life, something is present from the past, and even from the future. Maybe, in however we respond to that scene, we are preparing.
Funnily enough, no matter what other types of preparation I've done during Advent, that moment--a baby lifted proudly like Simba on Pride Rock, "mild he lays his glory by, born that we no more may die"--always feels fresh, washing over me anew every time, every year. Like when I met my husband or found another kindred sister or held our niece for the first time or welcomed Lucy the lab into her new home. There's hope again.
I think the truth is that we are always preparing. We never stop preparing room for God in our hearts. And through this ongoing preparation, we are preparing room for others--the people we feel connected to automatically, and, more importantly, the people we don't automatically think of. And so Advent marks another year of doing our best to prepare; another fresh sign of hope to keep us going. Another reminder that when we stop and think about it, God can show up in the world through us, regardless of the season.