Let every heart prepare him room

The story of Jesus’ birth reminds us that things don’t always go the way we’ve planned or the way we think they should. Some of God’s greatest work begins as what we might view as an interruption. How can we prepare our hearts and minds and daily schedules to welcome Jesus, whenever and wherever he comes in?

No one on earth was planning for the Messiah to come as a baby. Matthew tells us:

This is how the birth of the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit.
–Matthew 1:18 (NIV)

God upended Mary’s life plans to bring a Savior to the world. If it wasn’t God, the interruption could have damaged her reputation, left her husbandless, publicly shamed, and poor for the rest of her life. But what we see in Mary’s response indicates a thoughtful and complete submission: “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” Later, with her cousin, Elizabeth, she sings, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior …. He who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name” (Luke 1:46, 49).

Mary surrendered her plans to make room for God’s will, first through her body and then her whole life. How had she prepared room in her heart for this unexpected infant King? How was she able to respond so obediently?

Joseph, a righteous man, was about to divorce Mary quietly because he didn’t want to disgrace her. God interrupted him too, in his sleep. Joseph was instructed to keep his plans to marry Mary, to accept the baby into their family and name him Jesus, because he would save his people from their sins (Matthew 1:21 NIV). Joseph obeyed too.

The couple rearranged their lives for the most extraordinary and magnificent of circumstances: They would play a role in God’s promise of salvation for all people.

Bethlehem did not prepare him room.

Though the prophet Micah had written 500 years ahead of time that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, no one in the city had prepared for his birth. Though Joseph’s relatives lived there, Bethlehem was full. No one had made plans for the coming of an infant who would grow up and save the world. Though there may have been some form of hospitality happening in this story, the King of Kings was born in a cave with animals and laid in a trough for livestock.

Jesus’ own people didn’t have room for him.

When Jesus had grown and begun his ministry, “he came to his own, and his own people did not receive him” (John 1:11). When Messiah arrived, those who claimed to be waiting for the Messiah didn’t accept that Jesus actually was who he said he was (John 1:10). Though God made it clear to some, most couldn’t see the Creator of everything when he was right in front of them. So, they rejected the Son of Man they did see.

The leaders of Israel had no room for Jesus in their teachings or their practice. We know that the rabbi who was called Jesus was from the beginning, that he is God. But the religious leaders did not bow down and worship; instead they plotted murder. 

On earth, Jesus said, he had no permanent place, nowhere to lay his head.

This failure to expect his coming by almost everyone does not escape Jesus’ notice. It becomes a theme in his teachings:

  • A king throws a wedding feast for his son, but the invited guests are neither prepared nor willing to come. The king’s wrath is stoked (Matthew 22), and he finds guests who are willing to come.
  • 10 virgins endure a long wait, expecting a bridegroom to come, but half of them (though they knew better) are not prepared when he arrives.
  • A homeowner is unprepared for a thief, and his house is broken into.
  • A man stores up enough for a luxury retirement, and God calls him a fool for his shortsighted failure to prepare for eternity.
  • A certain fig tree has no fruit as Jesus passes by, and an apostle later warns us, “Be ready in season and out ….”

Do we prepare him room?

Keep your life so constant in its contact with God that His surprising power may break out on the right hand and on the left. Always be in a state of expectancy, and see that you leave room for God to come in as He likes.
– Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest

We plan for everything. At the beginning of the year, we strategize and fill our calendars with important dates. We set personal goals and plans for our business, our giving, our vacations. And there is nothing wrong with this.

Yet the Bible doesn’t say many positive things about people who prepare their own plans and then offer them to God for his blessing. On the contrary, James tells us:

Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit’— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.’
– James 4:13-15

Those who are willing are often used by God in magnificent ways. Joseph and Mary were planning a wedding, yet those plans were far less important than the birth of the baby they weren’t expecting. Bethlehem was busy preparing for a census. Yet no one has ever celebrated the census of zero AD, while millions celebrate the birth of Jesus 2,000 years later.

We’re entering a season of planning. What would it look like for us to prepare room in those plans for God, to be so open that he could change all of them on a minute’s notice, without meeting resistance? What would it take for us even to find joy in that, even if God’s plan calls us to something that impinges on our comfort?

What obedience to God could we demonstrate if we were already making spaces in our days and our schedules, looking for him to come in? What love for others could we model if God surprised us with an opportunity and we were prepared?

What might the world be like if every Christian prepared room for the One who came as a baby, grew up to show us what the Father is like, and died to be our Savior? After all, it was believing in his coming and receiving him that brought our salvation in the first place.

But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God (John 1:12). And behold, he is with us, even to the end of the age (Matthew 28:20). Let every heart prepare him room; He is God with us!

Read: Leave Room for God, Oswald Chambers; Ephesians 3:20-21

Pray: Almighty God, Father of Jesus, and bringer of surprises, thank you for the coming of Jesus. Thank you for our salvation. Thank you for all you have prepared for us that we have not yet seen. Help us to expect you, prepare for you, welcome your interruptions, and live in the joy of a life that responds to you, no matter how difficult the call.

Listen: Mary and Joseph by Chris Renzema (lyrics)

Contemplate: Ask God how he wants you to make more room for him in 2023.

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