I cannot believe that we are already into the third week of Advent! Looking back on the last week I can sense the growing anticipation in my heart and in my home. Christ’s coming seems a little closer, and even more needed. As the house starts to look more like Christmas — wreath and bows on the door, nativity on the mantle, the growing display of Christmas cards on the wall — I get the feeling of that same “nesting” taking place in my heart. I’m opening it up, airing it out, getting it clean and ready for His coming.
However, that is not a painless nor quick task. The beautiful, but difficult process of opening up my heart and getting it ready to celebrate the Savior’s birth bears some interesting similarities to the process I go through in getting my home ready for Christmas.
Going through the Christmas bins in the attic, I will usually find some unhappy surprises. Half of the strands of lights may have burned out or be missing bulbs. A heavy box of books that has been sitting for months on the small box marked “FRAGILE” may result in half the glass ornament balls for the tree as last year. Other treasures I thought I packed away so carefully and purposefully are nowhere to be found. Sound familiar to anyone? Probably. Most of us find that we have to do a little replenishing each year, as we open up boxes and find that the contents don’t match our memory of what we packed in them from the last.
In a similar process, I find that the Advent season creates the space and time for me to take inventory of my heart. Here too I find unhappy surprises. A light of hope that once shone bright may now be pretty dim. The weight of life’s problems and my own attachments to various vices may be crushing my joy. The peace-giving, charity-growing spiritual truths and disciplines that I once took great care to preserve may be scarcely found. In short, examining the state of my heart as Advent begins quickly leads me to the realization that it needs a lot of replenishing–a lot of restoration–to be ready for Christmas morning.
While this realization is sobering, God’s grace working with my will to ready my heart is a beautiful thing. Grace is there for the asking. By His grace I can see the dim corners of my heart fill with light. The heaviness of sin and sadness give way to weightless joy. I am becoming more filled with love, more at peace. Advent’s process of getting your heart ready for Christmas simply means that your heart is starting to look more like His. I’m glad Advent isn’t over yet, because mine needs more work.
I was at a store this week looking at one of those Christmas towels that has a bunch of words on it that should be associated with Christmas: “joy, peace, hope, love, etc.” It is sad how much the commercialization of these words has made them cliches printed on cheap home goods. I think many people have poor lived experiences of the true meaning of these words. They may be affixed to various pieces of Christmas decor in our homes, but do they exist in our hearts? Have we let these virtues that should be primary characteristics of the Christian life become hollow words? We have to open up our hearts and start unpacking to find the answers. But whatever the contents we find, God’s grace is there to begin the restoration and renew our hope, joy, peace, and love.