One of the small challenges I face before Christmas is where to put the Christmas tree. Every year I commit to finding a better spot to raise the artificial greens, and every year it lands back where it was erected the year before. The problem is that our living room was not constructed to hold one more thing. The room is filled. One more item, like a Christmas tree, adds to a sense of clutter. The tree is beautiful; it’s what occupies the rest of the landscape that creates the problem. Making room is not easy.
The Gospel of Luke provides us with the account of the nativity where Mary plays a prominent role. For years Mary has been portrayed as submissive because of her yes to God. The angel came to Mary announcing her calling to carry the Christ child and to raise him along with Joseph. Her response was, “Let it be according to your will.” To say yes to God, Mary had to say no to all that negates God’s purposes. There is nothing submissive in living your faith and rejecting all that gets in the way of honoring Christ in your life. Mary made room for the Christ child in her body and in her life. Her life was changed forever.
A colleague shared of a trip she took to the Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Georgia. There she recalls being awed by the magnificent rose window above the altar. What astounded her was the size of Mary’s womb. In this stained glass, the artist's rendering of Mary has her sitting in a stained-glass circle with outstretched arms and a womb so large it contains Jesus standing as a grown man. His arms are open wide and there is enough room left for God’s rebirthing of all creation. The point of the image is that Christ will come into the broken places in us and into the world where healing is needed. We are all pregnant with the possibility of being made new and living a new life when we make room for Christ. But for us, like Mary, it means saying no to that which is not important.
Henri Nouwen says in his book, "Turn My Mourning into Dancing: Finding Hope in Hard Times," that “we have a fear of empty spaces.... We want to fill up what is empty. Our very lives stay very full. And when we are not blinded by busyness, we fill our inner space with guilt about things of the past or worries about things to come. Perhaps part of our fear comes from the fact that an empty place means that something may happen to us that we cannot predict, that is new, that leads to a place we might not want to go. We might not want to hear what God has to say.”
This rings true. We make room for Jesus by trusting God to open our hearts so that God can be at work in us. We give up packing our days full so there is room to “let go and let God” (as the old bumper sticker used to say); to let the Spirit speak and work in us. It is easy to find time in our lives for what is important to us. If it is something we do not want to do, then we tell ourselves that there just is not time for it. I do that with exercise. Even though I am in a habit of exercising three times a week, I am not as diligent as I was in pre-pandemic times. Being at home instead of the fitness center makes this discipline difficult. I can fool myself into thinking that there just is not time today. The real issue is that it is just not a priority. We can do the same thing with our spiritual lives. We open ourselves and wait for Jesus to fill us with his precious gifts.
The world will always fill us with enough to do and see and experience. The world, however, cannot make room inside us for God to be at work. Only when we make room for God to be in charge can this happen. In Bethlehem there was no room for Mary and Joseph, so Jesus was born without the comfort afforded humanity of that day. The world has never had room for Jesus. After Herod heard of Jesus’ birth, he was filled with fear and planned for Jesus’ demise. Thirty-three years later, the world accomplished their task. Death would take care of the Jesus trouble in the world. But we know not even death can control Jesus, and he lives today.
During this Advent, as we approach the celebration of Jesus' birth, may we find new ways to make room in our lives to honor, praise and serve this infant King who comes to reign forever!
1 Nouwen, Henri. Turn My Mourning into Dancing: Finding Hope in Hard Times. Thomas Nelson Inc. Nashville, TN. 2001. p. 42.