deck the halls, deck your heart

Decking the halls is one of my favorite parts of the Christmas season. We traditionally go the day after Thanksgiving to cut our tree down. We get it home and up in the stand, then take a break because we have usually experienced some thick marital tension build up in the process. (I’m waiting for someone to make an affordable alternative to the tree stands where you slowly screw into all sides of the tree.) Usually I tell Eric to go on a bike ride to release all of the stress that has built up just from trying to get the tree to sit straight, though this year was miraculously the easiest we have ever had it—probably the first year we haven’t argued or encountered some sort of disaster (like the year there was a hole in our tree stand and all the water leaked out for a week before we realized it was more than an unusually thirsty tree…). Later that night, we turn on Christmas music, decorate the tree, then watch a Christmas movie together.

But that’s just the tree decorating. For the next month, I slowly add more and more Christmas into our house. I love scavenging for evergreen branches to make wreaths and garlands. I light candles to enhance the evergreen smell in our home (hello Bath and Body Works’s Fresh Balsam), wrap presents in coordinating papers, string lights throughout the house, and anything else I can think of that will make our space cozy and Christmassy.

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I don’t do it all at once, because that’s part of the fun of December–part of the fun of anticipating the arrival of Christmas. Of course I know that decorations aren’t what Christmas is all about. But I have found that “decking the halls” for Christmas is one step in the direction of “decking my heart” for Christmas.

It’s easy to get caught up in places to go, activities to do, presents to buy, and food to bake during the month of December. And these are all fun things–I would argue, even spiritual things–as we enjoy the gifts of family and community. These sort of things add to the experience of the Christmas season and tune our hearts into the fact that there’s something different about this time of year.

But there is an even deeper way we can prepare our hearts in order to fully engage in the significance of the Advent season. I think of the line in “Joy to the World,” telling us to “let every heart / prepare him room.” It starts with some internal “house cleaning,” first being aware of the things that tend to distract us and draw us away from our longing for Christ. 

It’s been helpful for me each morning to sit quietly in the dark living room lit only by the lights from the tree, breathing deeply in between sips of coffee. I slowly acknowledge the places my heart feels anxious or distracted or tense, confessing these to the Lord and asking him to help me surrender those things to him.

Then throughout my day, I am trying to be aware of the moments when I feel stressed by plans, or perhaps distracted by new things I can put on my Christmas wish list, or obsessions over making something perfect. This continual awareness of my sin tendencies keeps me in a place of confession, because to be honest I am daily encountering the ways that I make the season about myself instead of about Christ. As I do this more and more, I am able to let go of expectations and selfishness, re-centering my heart in the Lord.

It’s not just about clearing things away, though. I’ve found that the second part of “decking my heart” is the anticipation and expectation of his presence. I am motivated to identify and remove my distractions because I believe that God will show up, and in “preparing him room” I find my desire for his presence grows.

You know how, when you are waiting for something, you are suddenly hyper-aware of anything that could indicate that it is coming? I ordered something online the other day, and on its scheduled delivery date, I found myself frequently thinking that I heard the UPS truck drive by, or that there was a thump outside the front door as if a package were being set down.

It’s as I pay attention that I am more likely to catch glimpses of God. Of course he shows himself to the unsuspecting, to those who aren’t looking for him. We can’t narrow down his ways to a pattern or formula. But I also believe that he shows up as we start to change our focus, as we move our eyes toward who he is and as we ask him to show us what he is doing.

And that anticipation, that looking that accompanies longing, is what Advent is all about.

I’m not sure where you are as we enter December, what you are experiencing or saddened by or longing for. I find that those things are all more tender during the holidays. I’m more aware of what’s going on inside me, and while this can mean that I am more quick to cry, I am also more receptive to the comfort of the Lord. Clearing space and paying attention helps me enter into the expectant waiting of the season, and my prayer is that throughout the month my heart would grow closer to his and that I would see him as the object and the fulfillment of all of my longings.

Some personal reflection questions I’ve been considering for myself:

  1. What in your heart’s “house” needs to be cleaned out to prepare him room? What about this next month adds stress or anxiety? What distractions do you find are continually present that prevent you from slowing down to spend time with the Lord? What materialistic tendencies are driving your desires related to Christmas?
  2. What spaces are you creating to look for him during this holiday season? Where can you quiet and still your body and your mind and your heart?
  3. What can you do to cultivate your desire for the Lord and your awareness of this season of Advent, identifying in the wait of Israel for salvation and our wait for the return of Christ? Are there specific passages or books or songs or places that draw your heart more deeply into him?

Previous Advent posts:

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