The words to the song “Joy to the World” were written by Isaac Watts. It is generally considered the most widely published Christmas hymn. Do you remember how the song begins?

Joy to the world, the Lord is come,
Let earth, receive her King.
Let every heart
Prepare Him room.
And heaven and nature...

Huh? "Prepare Him room"? What in the world does that phrase mean?

Well, when Jesus was born, Joseph and Mary found that there wasn’t a room for them to give birth to him. There was no room in Bethlehem… not among his family who lived there… and not in the inn. No one was willing to "prepare Him room"!

But, what about today? Do we "prepare Him room" in our hearts? Do we try to squeeze in Jesus with all the other things that tug at our hearts this time of year? How do we "prepare Him room" and also invite Jesus to reign in our lives?

When we talk about Advent, we do so from our moment in time — the time between the coming of Christ in human flesh at his birth and the time when he returns to earth in glory at the end of human time. So we are challenged to ask ourselves the question:

Have I opened my heart for Jesus to come and reign?

To ask it another way:

Am I willing to "prepare Him room"?

To "prepare Him room" and inviting Jesus to reign is how the strange beginning of the Gospel of Mark fits into the Advent season. You see, each of our four gospels — Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John — has a different beginning for the life and ministry of Jesus. Reading these four gospel stories about Jesus is a little like overhearing stories told at our past Christmas family gatherings. The stories have enough in common that we recognize that they are talking about the same event, but the perspective of each storyteller gives her or his particular slant on the story from a little bit different point of view.

Matthew begins by connecting the birth of Jesus to his genealogy through Abraham and David. Jesus came as the Savior of the Jewish people. He came to forgive his people of their sins. He came as the long-awaited Messiah, the Son of David, of Jewish prophetic expectation. Jesus came as Immanuel because he was "God with" his people. In Matthew, we see how Jesus fulfilled the promises of the prophets, especially Isaiah. Jesus was born of a virgin. Joseph, Jesus’ “step” dad, was a very righteous man who was challenged to believe the impossible about Mary. The angel of the Lord commanded Joseph not to divorce Mary even though she was pregnant while betrothed to him. Wise men, Magi from the East, welcomed Jesus as the King of the Jews. Jesus’ parents had to escape to Egypt with him to avoid an evil ruler who wanted to murder him. When the time was right, God called Joseph, Mary, and Jesus, to come out of Egypt and return to his people. Angels helped every step of the way.

Luke began his gospel with a righteous and devout couple, Zechariah and Elizabeth. God miraculously blessed them in their old age with a son. The angel told Mary that she would conceive and have a child by the power of the Holy Spirit. That child was protected by Joseph who took Mary to Bethlehem to fulfill the requirements of a Roman edict. The child Mary carried in pregnancy, Jesus, was proclaimed by angels to shepherds. These shepherds followed the angels’ direction and went to see the Christ child and worshiped him. Anna and Simeon, old and devout followers of God, rejoiced while in the Temple at God’s Son being born. They declared that Jesus was God’s way of bringing light to the nations and bringing glory and consolation to his people, Israel.

John, however, took a different approach. He began his gospel with Jesus as God’s ultimate Message, the living Word of God. This divine Word was pre-existent before any created thing and was responsible for all created things. This Word is and was and will be God. This Word chose to enter the world in human flesh living among us to reveal God to us. Yet this Word of God was so much more than mere words chiseled into stone or written with ink. This Word took on human flesh and lived among us as one of us to reveal God to us.

Each of these gospels brings the good news of the coming of Jesus Christ our Lord. But, have we made room for him in our hearts? Will we invite Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, and Son of Man into our lives? Are we willing to "prepare Him room"? Will we let Jesus reign in our hearts?

Those questions challenge us to see how the Gospel of Mark fits into Advent. You see, Mark doesn’t talk about Jesus’ birth. He mentions no Magi and no shepherds. Mark doesn't speak about Herod or the escape to Egypt. Mark doesn't give us details about angels or old devout people who saw baby Jesus at the Temple. He doesn't tell us about evil Herod and experts of the Law. No, Mark began his good news about Jesus with the question for each of us, implicit in the ministry of John the Baptizer:

Will I "prepare Him room" in my heart so that Jesus can reign over my life?

Advent, the coming of Jesus, begins with the call for preparation.
Notice the words that begin the Gospel of Mark and how he presents this challenge to the people of that time through the ministry of John and to us through his gospel:

The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, as it is written in Isaiah the prophet:

I will send my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way —
a voice of one calling in the wilderness,
Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him.

And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins (Mark 1:1-4).

Advent, the coming of Jesus, begins with the call to prepare. John the Baptizer, the great servant of God, made this call to the people of God. He did this by combining two different prophecies about the Messiah (Malachi 3:1 and Isaiah 40:3) and by using two different words for this needed preparation for the Messiah’s coming.

The first word for preparation emphasizes the preparation of the vessel or structure — kataskeuasei. We must prepare our hearts for Jesus to come. We must let God tear down our high places — the idols, secret sins, and personal prejudices we hide from others and that we don’t want to give up. We must also allow our hearts to have our low places — our brokenness, our wounds, our disappointments, fears, and uncertainties — open to Spirit of God to be comforted and fill them so that Jesus can come into the broken places hearts to heal them and to reign there bringing God’s grace and blessing. We do this because we want to be a vessel of honor to be used by God for the Messiah's purposes (2 Timothy 2:20-21 ESV).

Which leads us to Mark's second word for preparation, `etoimasate. This word emphasizes our call to join in preparing for the Lord’s coming to all people. By preparing our hearts to welcome Jesus, we are also joining John in preparing the way for Jesus to come to others — our family, our friends, the people in our sphere of influence, and those seeking him. We received Jesus as our Lord, Messiah, the Son of God because we’ve prepared a place for him to reign in our hearts as John commanded the people of his day. We now prepare the way — we "make straight paths" — for Jesus to come into the hearts of those around us.

I can’t think of many things as vital or more precious for us to be considering at Christmas, can you? We not only long for Jesus to come with power, might, and grace in our world, but we prepare the way for him to come in our time, and just in time, for Christmas. We join with every heart seeking Jesus and every person seeking to share Jesus. We "prepare Him room"!