The Carols of Christmas
Part 2: Joy to the World – Prepare Him Room
Pastor Morris Brown
Have you heard the story about the little boy who wanted to get ready for Christmas the right way? Instead of writing the traditional letter to Santa Claus, he decided to write a letter to Jesus – the real reason for the season. So, one day he got out pen and a piece of paper and sat down at the kitchen table.
“Dear Jesus,” he wrote, “I’ve been a really good boy this year.”
Then he thought about some of the things he’d done, and decided to tear up the piece of paper. Taking out another piece of paper he started again.
“Dear Jesus, “I’ve been a pretty good boy this year.”
Then he thought about some of the other things he’d done, and tore up that paper too. Frustrated, he got up from the table and walked into the living room. There, he saw the nativity set his mother had just put out. And an idea hit him. He carefully picked up the figure of Mary, carried her into the kitchen, wrapped her up in a towel, and stuck her in the back of a drawer. Then he sat back down at the kitchen table, and taking out a third piece of paper, he wrote, “Dear Jesus, if you ever want to see your mother again!”
Well, today is the first Sunday of the season of Advent. In this season, we’re called to prepare for the celebration of our Lord’s birth. Unlike that little boy, however, we’re not getting ready by writing letters to Santa or Jesus. Instead, at Christ Church we’re getting ready for Christmas by sharing a worship series entitled, The Carols of Christmas. In this series, we’re using some carols we sing at Christmas to help us get ready for the celebration of Jesus’ birth. We began our series last week with the beautiful carol, “What Child Is This?”
The carol reminded us that the child who’ll be born to Mary is “Christ the King.” And we talked about the kind of king he will be. We said he’ll be a commanding king who calls us to love one another as he loves us. We said he’ll be a correcting king who doesn’t condemn us, but lovingly helps us when we lose our way. We said he’ll be a compassionate king who “walks with us” through the ups and downs, the twists and turns of life. And, we said he’ll be a conquering king who’ll defeat the powers of darkness and death, and will help us defeat the powers of darkness and death as well.
Well, today we move the second carol of Christmas. Today’s carol is Joy to the World. The carol was written by the English hymn writer Isaac Watts in 1719. And yet today, almost 300 years later, it is still the most published carol in North America. Now, I love the entire carol, but today I only want to focus on one line in the first verse. I want to focus on the line that says, “Let every heart prepare him room!” You see, Isaac Watts believed that if we are truly going to experience the joy of Christmas, if we are truly going to receive Christ our King, we must “prepare him room!” We must prepare room in our hearts and our lives, for the Christ to be born. The question is, how do we do this?
Well, I believe this morning’s scripture helps us. For you see, in this scripture, John the Baptist - who tradition says lived in the wilderness, ate locust and wild honey, and preached hellfire and brimstone – not only tells us that, “The Lord is coming!” He gives us several practical things we all may need to do to prepare him room!
For example, to prepare room for the coming of Christ this Christmas, John the Baptist says we may need to FILL A VALLEY. I don’t know about you, but most of the valleys I need to “fill” in my life have to do with relationships. In other words, there are relationships I have with people in my life that aren’t very good. These relationships remind me of the man who filling out a form for an insurance policy. The form asked him to list the person who was to be his beneficiary. The man put his wife’s name. The next question asked him to describe his relationship with that person. He put, “strained.”
For many of us, this hits home, doesn’t it? That’s because many of us probably have at least one relationship in our life right now we could describe as “strained.” We have at least one relationship that has a bit of a valley in it. It may be a relationship we have with a family member or a friend. It may be a relationship we have with a person at work or school. It may even be a relationship we have with a person at church. Whatever the case, the best way for us to prepare room for the coming of Christ this Christmas may be to take a step that would create the opportunity to fill that valley in. We may need to send a text or email, or make a call, or have face to face a conversation.
But, if we are going to prepare room in our hearts for Christ to come this Christmas, if we are truly going to experience the joy of Christmas this year, some of us may need to begin by doing something to fill a valley. Some of us need to begin by taking a step to create the opportunity for a strained relationship to be repaired!
Second, to prepare room for the coming of Christ this Christmas, John the Baptist says we may need to LEVEL A MOUNTAIN. Some of you know that I grew up in the mountains of Asheville. As a result, I love them. As much as I love the mountains, however, I also know mountains can be an obstacle to a better life.
For example, when I was a kid, the only direct way you could get from the east side of Asheville where I lived to the west side of Asheville where my dad worked, was to go through a two-lane tunnel under Beaucatcher Mountain. And for years, this caused traffic problems that were an obstacle to a better life.
Well, when I was in the 7th grade, the city decided to do something about it. They decided to level a section of Beaucatcher Mountain so I-240, or the “Open Cut” as we called it, could be built. Of course, it took some time and it took some effort, but leveling the mountain made a difference. It made travel easier, and life better.
So, let me ask: What mountains get in the way of our preparation for the coming of Christ at Christmas? What mountains are getting in the way of our ability to experience the salvation of the Lord? Perhaps the greatest mountain in our culture is busyness! In other words, we can get so busy we miss the true reason for the season.
I remember a story about a woman who went to see a counselor because she was so stressed out by the Christmas season. In the course of their conversation, the counselor asked her what she was doing to get ready for Christmas. “Oh,” the woman said, “I’ve been busy shopping, decorating, baking goodies, going to parties!”
When she finished saying these things the counselor asked the woman if she’d like a cup of hot tea. “Sure.” she replied. So, the counselor handed the woman a cup and then began pouring tea into it. But, when the cup was full, the counselor didn’t stop pouring. Instead, she kept pouring until the tea flowed over the rim of the cup.
Finally, the woman said, “Stop, my cup is overflowing.” When she did, the counselor looked up and said, “So is your life! You are so busy with the trappings of the season, you don’t have the energy or time to prepare room in your heart or life to truly experience the joy of the season.”
Can I ask, are you ever like that woman? Do you ever find that you get so busy with the trappings of the season - shopping, decorating, parties, even church activities - you have little
time or energy left to truly experience the joy of Christmas? If so, you may need to find a way to level the mountain of busyness, simplify the season, so you can truly prepare him room!
Third, John the Baptist says we can prepare room in our hearts for the coming of Christ by MAKING A CROOKED PATH STAIGHT. When I think about crooked paths, I think about attitudes and unhealthy behaviors we can sometimes engage in that lead us away from being the kind of person God created us to be. Times when we get bitter over something someone said. Times when we become impatient with situations we face. Times when we can be arrogant or rude. Times when we behave in ways that hurt others or even ourselves.
I think about the two rather charismatic ladies who sitting together in a church service one Sunday. During the sermon, their hell and brimstone preacher started condemning all kinds of sins. First, he condemned the sin of stealing. When he did, the ladies stood and shouted, “Amen brother, preach it!” Then, the preacher began to condemn the sin of lust. Again, the ladies stood and shouted, “Amen brother, preach it!” Finally, the preacher condemned the sin of gossip. When he did, the two ladies got very quiet. Then, one of the ladies turned to the other, and with a frown said, “He’s quit preaching and gone to meddling!”
Look, I don’t want to quit preaching and go to meddling, but I know that sometimes my life and your lives get off track. For whatever reason, we can engage in attitudes and actions that are unhealthy. And if we want to prepare our hearts and lives for the coming of the Christ this Christmas, we may need to confess our negative, unhealthy attitudes and actions! We may need to ask God for the help we need to make the crooked path in our life straight!
Finally, John the Baptist says we can prepare room for the coming of Christ at Christmas by SMOOTHING OUT A ROUGH ROAD. I don’t know how many of you travel down Friendly Avenue toward Guilford College, but if you do you may have noticed that for last couple of months it was a rough road. Extreme weather and normal wear and tear caused by a high volume of traffic has created pot holes, fractures in the pavement, and other issues that made that section of Friendly very hazardous. The good news is the city noticed this. So, just before Thanksgiving, they sent road crews to lay brand-new asphalt pavement. And now that rough section of Friendly is smooth as a baby’s bottom!
Why do I mention this? I mention it because I know people whose road in life right now is as rough as Friendly was. I know people who’re dealing with serious illness. I know people who’ll be spending their first holiday season without someone they love. I know people who are having a difficult time with finances which makes this season even more stressful. I know people who are struggling to find some direction in their lives. And my guess is you know people like that as well. My guess is you know at least one person who’s traveling a rough road in their life right now! And the truth is, one of the best ways you and I can prepare room in our hearts for Christ this Christmas, is to find a way to make their road a little smoother.
There are many ways to do it. We might send a card to say, “I’m thinking about you.” We might invite someone out for coffee and offer a listening ear and encouraging word. We might to adopt an angel from our Angel Tree so a child in our community have a Christmas they could not have without it our help. We might want to go with our Lumberton Mission Team next week to help repair a home for one of the 195 families in Lumberton who still don’t have a home to go to this Christmas.
The important thing is this! That we do something to make somebody’s rough road a little smoother this Advent toward Christmas season. Why? Because doing something to smooth out another person’s rough road, will help us prepare room to experience the joy of Christmas in our hearts as well.
So, 300 years ago, Isaac Watts wrote, “Joy to the world, the Lord is come! Let earth receive her king! Let every heart prepare him room!” How will we prepare room in our heart for the coming of Christ this Christmas? Shopping, decorating, going to parties and church activities, writing a letter to Santa or even to Jesus?
Those are all good ways! But, perhaps the best way to prepare room in our heart for Christ this Christmas is to follow the wisdom of John the Baptist - and fill in a valley, level a mountain, straighten a crooked path or make a rough road smooth. As we come to the Lord’s Table, let’s ask God to help us do what we need to do!