As I read this week’s lectionary scriptures, I’m reminded of the hymn “Joy to the World” by Isaac Watts:
Let ev’ry heart prepare Him room
And heaven and nature sing! And heaven and nature sing!
And heaven, and heaven, and nature sing!
“Joy to the World” is a Christmas hymn, and so I imagine some readers wondering why I appear to be truncating Advent! After all, this year’s fourth “week” of Advent turns out to be merely a day – less than a day, even, given vigil mass schedules for Christmas.
Yet the readings themselves invite us to consider a different but very important aspect of Advent. Consider that all the past three weeks, we have been invited to watchful waiting – the prophet Isaiah and John the Baptist both proclaimed a time when mountains would be brought low and hills raised up – and we were all waiting together for this time when God would create straight highways in the desert – roads that would lead us straight to God.
This fourth Sunday the tone changes, quite deliberately. On this day, we discover that the highway we’ve been promised is not at all “out there” in some distant reality. It is not a path that we spy far off in the distant hills. Rather, it is we who must “prepare Him room” and become the path, as Watts’ beloved hymn proclaims. Just as Mary prepared “Him room”, ordering her life so that God could grow in her, we find we must make space in our days, our bodies, our words, our work, so that Jesus can be born, grow, flower in us. In this way we enable God to meet us in the midst of our very own lives.
On this fourth Sunday of Advent, in other words, we move from watchful waiting to expectant mother. A pregnant mother still waits for labor – but at the same time fully experiences the reality of a new life living in her. That new life is there, already – and yet also waiting to be born.
This is in fact the crazy reality of the Incarnation, that Jesus will be born in us. We are waiting for Jesus to come while at the same time we know, in a way, that Jesus is already present in us. Though it is only Advent and not yet Christmas – we are this day invited to take in the shock of the fact that Jesus, God and Man, comes to earth and is fully present to each and every one of us.
We see this in the first reading from the Second book of Samuel, where David is plotting and planning to honor God with a temple, a home of God’s very own. David worries that God is merely in a tent while he, as king, lives in great earthly splendor.
While God approves the idea of a temple, God also offers a very new and different vision. David wants to build God a house – but God is the one who will make David a house. A human being will somehow become a house that stands forever. How can this be?
The Gospel reading gives us one of our most beloved stories of Mary – being visited by the Angel Gabriel. We also hear those familiar words, “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you!” More than that, we discover the Son of God will fulfill God’s promise to David to make him an everlasting house. And we discover, too, that Mary will house God.
“How can this be?” she wonders. It is a question about the Incarnation that we, too, are invited to ask, especially now on the cusp of Christmas. The Holy Spirit will come upon her. The Holy Spirit comes upon us.
God is in us, even as we also wait on God’s presence.
What does this mean for our moral life? Let us consider how to prepare to meet God who is already in us, who already seeks us, who already loves us. If we are going to have room for God, there is still time to consider all the stuff of our lives that crowds God out – in the ways we spend our money and our time on stuff that doesn’t really add to love and joy – in the ways we treat each other and ourselves but that doesn’t in fact enable us to love each other and God more.
My prayer for this last 3/4 day is: let every heart prepare Him room.