I pray that, according to the riches of God’s glory, God may grant that you be strengthened in your inner being with power through God’s Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. (Ephesians 3.16-17)
A Very Real Nerve
It would verge on dishonesty to say Walt and I have ever seriously considered having children. Our temperaments and professions predispose us to a rather freewheeling manner of life incompatible with sound parenting. For the sake of all concerned, we leave the most important task any human can undertake to those better equipped to succeed. Still, the question pops up now and then, posed by friends who insist we’d be great parents. We ceased trying to debunk that myth long ago. Now we deflect the suggestion by admitting this much: the nursery would be spectacular. We’re both remarkably adept at short-sprint projects, and we can envision throwing our entire energy (and a hefty chunk of our resources) into creating a lavishly outfitted home for a newborn. But a child isn’t a design accessory; it’s a lifetime commitment, which neither of us is convinced we have stamina or tenacity to fulfill.
Lack of parental experience—and, I suppose, instinct—narrows my access to the Nativity. While those who’ve brought life into the world intuitively project their experiences onto the story, we who’ve not known what that’s like can only objectify its joys and uncertainties. We see them, but we don’t quite feel them. On the other hand, Advent’s anticipation and preparation for a forthcoming event touches a very real nerve in all of us. Each of us has looked down a long road, pinpointed a destination, and met with pleasure and frustration in getting there. For me, Advent invariably brings to mind nursery building—not from having done it, but from knowing what it entails. Most of all, I find it to be a powerful metaphor. For what is Advent if not the time to contemplate and construct a home in which the newborn Christ can dwell?
The Christ Child enters the human narrative from multiple angles. By divine right, He assumes His role in history as its most dominant figure. He also takes His place in His immediate world, where His birth summons the attention of shepherds and kings. In terms of Israel’s Messianic scheme, the nature of His nativity secures His prophetic bona fides—ultimately qualifying Him to redefine the Messiah not as a Deliverer Who founds an earthly kingdom, but as the Door through which we usher God’s kingdom on Earth. Regarding our relationship with God, He is the Word made flesh, the mortal manifestation of the forever Divine, Who stands where our consistent failure intersects with God’s constant grace.
On these levels, Jesus’s birth is a singular achievement; it happens through none of our doing. Our participation emerges in faith that Jesus comes to make His home in us. And it’s impossible to overstate how crucial this aspect of God’s great plan is. Without our involvement as vessels that house Christ’s presence, the Nativity’s historic, prophetic, and theological import retains little significance—and no relevance whatsoever. Without us, it’s another myth construed to explain human behavior in a cosmic context. Without us, the Christmas miracle we marvel at is neither miraculous nor marvelous. Jesus comes to make His home in us. That’s what takes our breath away.
A Useful Prototype
Thus, Advent presses us to soberly consider the home we’ll provide the nascent Christ born to live in us. What will our nurseries be like? What must we clear to ensure the Infant’s safekeeping and wellness? What must we add to nurture His growth and development? What will we need to heighten our attentiveness to His demands and cement our bond with Him? These aren’t easy questions with obvious answers. They can only be resolved by prayerful self-honesty (and the pain that often accompanies it), as well as sincere application of Scripture’s counsel as to what housing Christ’s presence requires.
Paul submits an extremely useful prototype in Ephesians 3.16-17: “I pray that, according to the riches of God’s glory, God may grant that you be strengthened in your inner being with power through God’s Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love.” We replace the clutter of human logic and personal doubts by drawing on God’s infinite wealth of inexplicable grace, goodness, and steadfast favor. We partner with the Holy Spirit, Whose comfort and guidance provide inner strength with power to forego codependency on nagging fears and weaknesses. We furnish the Infant’s nursery with faith in Christ as the transformative Agent Who endows our capacity to be His home.
Lastly, Paul informs us while we plan and construct our nurseries—and every day thereafter—we’re being rooted and grounded in love. This dynamic process becomes the defining attribute that identifies us as Christ’s dwelling. First Corinthians 13.4-7 exquisitely portrays love’s behavior, saying it’s patient, kind, not envious, boastful, arrogant, or rude. It doesn’t insist on its own way. It’s not irritable or resentful. It doesn’t praise wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things. Being rooted and grounded in these traits guarantees the Christ Child will abide in an authentically loving, trusting, disciplined environment.
And therein lies Advent’s mystery. It primes us for innumerable contradictions the Christ Child brings to us by seeding contradiction in our preparation to welcome Him. We make a home for Him so He can make His home in us. Inviting Him to dwell in us is how we dwell in Him. We welcome, nurture, and sustain His presence by drawing from it. We defeat dark fears and doubts with transparent trust. We obtain power to believe in Christ through faith in Christ’s power. We open our hearts to ready love by confessing how unready we are to love with open hearts. Nothing about our nurseries makes sense—yet all of it makes sense, starting with the imponderable reality that the unsurpassed possibilities born in Bethlehem remain impossible until they're alive in us. May your nurseries be as glorious as the Child Who dwells in them.
Eternal, Incarnate God, we’d be fools to say we understand any of this. Yet somehow we get it. May Advent fire our passion to make ready a home for You so You may make Your home in us. Inspire us to enlarge on what we’ve already done. Endow us with new courage and creativity to exceed our earlier efforts. Amen.
Advent prepares us to make a home for Christ so that Christ might make a home in us.
Postscript: "Into My Heart"
This sumptuous rendition of the classic children’s hymn says it all.