I really don’t like it when uncontrolled emotional responses rise up within me; they are almost always an inconvenience, a nuisance that burns up energy I had planned to use in other ways, basically messing up my schedule for that day. Any powerful sense of feeling that can lead to my being unable to speak with an unbroken voice – or, Heaven forbid, burst into tears – does not sit at all well with either my German heritage or my Reformed Presbyterian training.

Consistent with this personal commitment to the repression of inconvenient emotion, I did not plan to get choked up during yesterday’s worship service at The Crossing. Apparently, God had a different agenda.

When the worship team launched into an amazingly-well-done rendition of “Joy to the World” by Isaac Watts, I very nearly lost it. See, I have read enough of Watts’ biography to know that he did not lead a life devoid of pain and suffering. Watts was a man of deep faith and emotion, as his poetry and song lyrics rightly suggest, but by all accounts he also was an ugly man. Most notably, Watts was thwarted from the one romantic love relationship he most desired because he was so physically unattractive. Certainly then, his words of rejoicing stand in stark contrast to the realities of his life this side of Heaven:

Joy to the World by Isaac WattsJoy to the world! The Lord is come.
Let earth receive her King!
Let every heart
prepare Him room,
and heaven and nature sing,
and heaven and nature sing,
and heaven and heaven and nature sing!

Joy to the world, the Savior reigns!
Let men their songs employ!
While fields and floods,
rocks, hills and plains,
repeat the sounding joy,
repeat the sounding joy,
repeat, repeat, the sounding joy!

He rules the world with truth and grace,
and makes the nations prove,
the glories of His righteousness,
and wonders of His love;
and wonders of His love;
and wonders, wonders of His love.

All this praise pouring out so freely…from “an ugly guy” who “didn’t get the girl.”

His illness and unsightly appearance took its toll on his personal life. His five-foot, pale, skinny frame was topped by a disproportionately oversized head. Almost every portrait of him depicts him in a large gown with large folds – an apparent attempt by the artists to disguise his homeliness. This was probably the reason for Elizabeth Singer’s rejection of his marriage proposal. As one biographer noted, “Though she loved the jewel, she could not admire the casket [case] which contained it.”
Isaac Watts: Father of English Hymnody

Isaac WattsYesterday, as I sang these words and considered the chasm between the yet-palpable joy Watts felt for Christ and the reality of his rejection by the woman he loved, it just became too much for me to bear. (Thankfully, I was able to shove down this unplanned/unscheduled outpouring before anyone else in the auditorium got wise…I think.)

In a very real sense, though, God used both the life and the lyrics of Isaac Watts to stage an unplanned invasion into the deeper regions of my heart. Consistent with Who I now know Jesus to be, He entered my life in a quiet-but-profound manner when it best suited Him, and when I was not at all expecting His arrival. It seems to me that Jesus does that a lot…He makes His arrival at the perfect time and confounds our plans to pursue our own agendas.

The witness of the Bible is replete with examples of God utterly confounding the expectations of those to whom He appears, but none is so full of unexpected hope than His arrival as an infant – soon enough to become a refugee – in a filthy stable outside of Bethlehem:

Luke 2:1-7 (ESV)
In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

If you are anything like me, you most often seek to control the entrance of Jesus into your life. Perhaps you repress an authentic outburst of emotion because it arrives at an inconvenient time. Maybe instead you are slow to offer help to someone who is really struggling to keep his or her head above water because of the plans you’ve already made for “your” money; “I’ll remember to help this person out once I get through the Christmas holiday…maybe the week of the 26th? Let me check my planner.” There are any number of ways in which we find it easy to hold Jesus at arm’s length as we push through our days, weeks, months and years.

And yet…Christ presses in unannounced all the same, our soul’s response is to burst from its cage and worship, and it seems entirely right that I should be more open to that experience. Shouldn’t we all?

Jesus is God; He shows up whenever and wherever He chooses, and (for whatever reason) feels perfectly free to rearrange our Day Planners by drilling the lyrics of a long-dead hymn writer into our soul or by raining down an ice storm on a Friday in December when we had a lot of Christmas shopping to do. My prayer for our growing community of believers in mid-Missouri is that we would relinquish our death grip on our plans (and our emotions) and give ourselves over to “prepare Him room” in our hearts and in our lives. Grace and peace to all this Christmas!

Luke 2:8-11
And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”

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