Whether you like it or not, Christmas music is here. It’s after Thanksgiving, so all the naysayers have already had their day with the Christmas-music-right-after-Halloween crowd.
Which is me. I’m one of those people who ramps up the Christmas music on November 1. I’ve pretty much always been that way. Then again, I was the girl who planned her Halloween costume in late August. Christmas is one of my favorite times of year. I want it to last for as long as possible.
You could say listening to Christmas music gets me in the “Christmas spirit.” I listen to it for a number of different reasons–it’s festive, it’s nostalgic, it’s just plain good. And I only have about a month or so of time to listen to it before it loses its luster, as December lumbers on into January.
So I’m in the throes of my Christmas-music-listening. I have my standbys like Michael W. Smith, Mannheim Steamroller and traditional choral favorites. I have fringes like Scott Bradlee, a smattering of Doctor Who Christmas special music and even, yes, The Nightmare Before Christmas.
One I’ve continually gone back to this year is “The Promise” by Michael W. Smith. I listen to it almost every day. It begins with a beautiful orchestral sweep followed by this verse, sung recitation-style by Smith:
Fear not, Israel, for there is peace still to come
A word to break the silence, a promise set to bloom
A promise to redeem us, one to free us
Break the silence, heal the violence in our lives
Emmanuel is sure to find us soon
The mighty root of Jesse, star of truth
And bring us unto glory, tell His story
Heal the broken and restore thee to His name
The star will guide us to the humble place
Where Christ the King reveals His earthly face
And we will see Emmanuel, God is with us
God is for us, God is in us, we will see
Very Christmasy. If you follow the liturgical calendar, this is a very Advent-oriented carol. It has a very strong “book of Isaiah” feeling to it–the anticipation of the birth of the Messiah. And the song rings true. The people of Israel were waiting and hoping for their Savior to come.
But when He came, they weren’t ready.
We’ve heard it a million times before. When Mary and Joseph came to Bethlehem, there wasn’t any room for them because everyone was in town for the census. So they had to stay in a stable, or a cave, or a stall, or whatever historians decide it actually was. And that’s where Jesus was born–reflections and stories often focus on how our Savior was delivered into the world with nothing, literally born among animals.
But I’d rather focus on the fact that even with all their waiting and praying, Israel still wasn’t ready for Him.
This thought hit me when I was listening to the classic carol “Joy to the World” recently. It’s funny how we stop “hearing” lyrics after awhile and simply listen. This time, I actually heard the lyrics, and I heard something different:
Joy to the world! The Lord is come,
Let earth receive her King,
Let every heart prepare Him room
“Prepare Him room.” My thoughts suddenly turned to that night in Bethlehem, when nobody had room for the coming Savior. I don’t think the hymn writer phrased it that way on accident.
Because for all our waiting and hoping and praying, sometimes the time arrives and we aren’t prepared. Because we didn’t see it coming. We were looking for something entirely different.
Hearing that carol in a new way challenged me. What chambers of my heart need to be cleared out to prepare room for my King? What needs to be evicted so he has space for me to receive Him? What dark corners need to be illuminated, so my Savior can see my light in the darkness and know that there is room for Him here?
The Israelites weren’t looking for a baby born among animals. They were looking for a great, triumphant King. They weren’t prepared for the unexpected. And if we don’t prepare room in our hearts for Jesus to do the unexpected, then we’re missing the point. To wait on the Lord without preparation is to wait without hope.
So enjoy your Christmas music. And prepare Him room.
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