This past year we’ve been talking about how we can all love God with “all your heart and all your soul and all your strength.” As we enter this Christmas season, Angela has asked me to write about how we can celebrate Jesus in our hearts. I don’t know much, but if there’s one thing I do know, it’s that my heart is not pure and needs preparation in order to receive the King of Kings. I mean, if I can completely level with you, I’m nowhere near sainthood. Shocking, I’m sure, but I digress. Let’s take a closer look at our own heart preparation and what it even means to celebrate Jesus in our hearts . . .
When I started my research for this blog entry, I wanted to know how often the Bible talks about the condition of the heart, and did you know the Bible talks about people’s hearts over seven hundred times? The condition of one’s heart is clearly important to God! There are stories and instructions all through the scriptures teaching us about and warning us against our own hearts. We recently studied at our church the passage in Exodus which covers the 10 plagues of Egypt. Something that’s really stuck with me is how often it was mentioned that Pharaoh’s heart was “hard” or “hardened” in response to Moses and his requests. In case you missed this episode of Sesame Street (shoutout to all the 80s kids who learned about this along with me from Big Bird!) the ancient Egyptians believed that when someone died, they had to pass a test given by Osiris, Judge of the Dead. Osiris would weigh the heart of the deceased against the “feather of truth” and if the heart was too heavy, the deceased could not move on to the Field of Reeds which was the goal for all Egyptians in the afterlife. Knowing that this was the Egyptian belief, it’s interesting to note the use of the word “hard” in relation to Pharaoh’s heart, suggesting that even within his own belief system, his heart would not be pure or light enough to grant him access to the idyllic Field of Reeds. As a Christian, while I’m not expected to have a pure heart due to my own sin, I am called to surrender–to soften–my heart to the Lord. If you’ve ever experienced a broken relationship with someone, you probably know how hard it can be to celebrate that person or celebrate with them. When we soften our hearts towards the Lord, we’re giving Him invitation to be in relationship with us. This prepares our hearts for celebration.
While my heart has always had deceit in it, it seems that the older I get, the harder it is to clear my heart for the Lord. Sometimes it’s my own pride. Sometimes I get distracted with all the things on my to-do list. Sometimes, if I’m honest, I just get lazy. We’re reminded in the book of Matthew that where our treasure is, our heart is also (Matthew 6:21). While this verse often carries a bit of conviction for me, if I don’t process through the conviction and get into the action of refining my heart, all I’ve experienced in guilt instead of relationship. To truly celebrate Christ in my heart, I need to allow the Holy Spirit to help clear out the clutter and even, sometimes, the cobwebs that have taken up residence in my heart. It’s only when the clutter is clear that I’m able to make room for Jesus and focus on Him.
When my grandmother was in her 60s, she suffered an injury which left her in a wheelchair for a while. In his 67 year of life, my granddaddy had never done any housework but he found himself having to do it all when my grandmother was unable. He jokingly commented to my mom, “You know what I’ve learned about housework? It doesn’t matter how good a job you do today, it all has to be done over again tomorrow.” Well, I don’t know about your heart, but I definitely need to do my “heartwork” everyday. I think there’s good reason someone decided to take words from Psalm 51 and sing about “Create in me a clean heart, oh, God/ and renew a right spirit within me . . .” We all need daily renewal. We need a clean start each day. It’s in that everyday “heartwork” that we’re able to keep our eyes on Jesus. It’s not something we do once and then we never need to do again. Preparing our hearts for Jesus is a discipline and it starts over every day. The good news is that every day is a new opportunity! Don’t worry about yesterday. Tomorrow has its own worries. (Sound familiar? Look up Matthew 6:34.) Just focus on today and meeting with Jesus today. Another piece of good news is that while we are currently in the midst of celebrating Christmas, you can actually start fresh with Jesus any time of year. You won’t “miss” Jesus if you somehow miss out on celebrating his birth during this season. You can celebrate Jesus and how much He loves you no matter what time of year it is. Since, however, it is the Christmas season, let’s talk a little more about how to prepare our hearts during this special time of year . . .
I have always loved Christmas. I will celebrate Christmas year-round if I’m allowed. Christmas music in July? Yes. Christmas movies all throughout the year? Yes. I have no shame about this. I grew up in Savannah, Georgia, where winter is mild and where you’re likely to be wearing a t-shirt and flip flops on Christmas day, but that never kept me from soaking in the wonder and spirit of the season. I have vivid memories of the living room in my childhood home during the weeks leading up to Christmas. I would turn off the lights, allowing the space to fill with twinkles of green, blue, red, yellow, and orange. I sat at the foot of the Christmas tree listening to Christmas music, eating an orange, the spritz of juice from the orange filling the air with that all-too-familiar scent of the season. When I think back on it, this was a moment of worship for me. The moment was so simple, and it made room in my heart for Jesus, but I think the path to preparing my heart for Jesus started even earlier in life . . .
When I was about three years old, a friend of my mom’s approached me during the Christmas season and asked me if I knew who was coming to my house on Christmas Eve. She was assuming, of course, I would say Santa Claus. My answer?
My own mother was very young in her faith at the time, but even with a young toddler at her feet she was teaching me truth and planting those treasures in my heart at an early age, and I’m grateful. There’s a simplicity, a wonder, and a certain magic that comes with Christmastime. Celebrating Jesus in our hearts can also be simple. It may be quiet. Just like that silent night when He was born. When I think about preparing room in my heart for Jesus and celebrating Him, I actually think about His mom, Mary. There are two passages in the book of Luke where Mary observes two separate moments with Jesus as a child, and then she “treasures” these things in her heart. The use of the word “treasure” here means, ““to preserve a thing from perishing or being lost.” So often as Christians, we’re encouraged to share what Jesus has done in our lives, and there’s definitely value there, but there’s a time for declaration and then there’s a time for contemplation. Mary was not running door to door to tell stories of Jesus. She treasured these moments with Him in her heart, and He knew that. He knew how precious and dear those moments were for them both. During the Christmas season we remember the anticipation of the arrival of Jesus as a baby, but it’s also a reminder that we’re still in anticipation of his return. And, while we wait, how sweet, precious, and kind is it that we have the time to reflect on special moments we’ve had with the Lord?
I had a repeating dream as a child, and I remember it to this day. It’s the kind of dream that feels so real, you’re almost sure it happened. In the dream, I’m about five years old. I’m seated on a grassy hillside, likely in spring and I’m surrounded by other children of similar age. We’re all seated in a circle, and our attention is focused in the same direction. It’s Him. It’s Jesus. And He’s talking to us. And playing with us. To this day, it’s the most comforting dream I’ve ever had. I think there’s good reason Jesus talks so much about children in the Bible and how if we’re to see Heaven, we must become childlike in our faith. Not that children are without sin, but there’s a simplicity to the faith and ways of a child that can get lost when we think ourselves too wise or more mature than we really are. I would encourage you during this special season to put yourself in a place where you can wonder freely. Put yourself in a space where you can be still. Jesus has gone before us to prepare a room for us in Heaven (John 14:2). Why would we then not prepare room for Him in our hearts this side of Heaven? When you find this quiet space, this special time, thank Him for all the ways He’s shown His abundant love for you. Ask Him to remind you of all He’s done. There will never be an easy year on this earth, but there’s always something to be grateful for. Recognizing what the Lord has done for you will enable you to soften your heart and celebrate. As you do your “heartwork” today, my prayer for you is that you will still yourself and revel in the beautiful mystery of the Lord’s overwhelming Love for you. He came for you. And He will come again. Spend a little time today praising Him for all He’s done, and treasure these things in your heart. He treasures you even more.
Laura Sue Johnson is a recovering emo kid who lives in north Georgia with her husband, Adam, and daughter, Imogen. She loves hip-hop and Jane Austen, and she will talk non-stop about Savannah, her hometown, if you let her. You can catch her blogging occasionally at www.laurasuejohnson.com and you can always catch her posting photos over on Instagram at @laurasuejohson.