“She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” Words from our Gospel this Christmas from the 2nd chapter of the Gospel according to St. Luke – sisters and brothers, may the Lord give to you his peace and his joy.
12-year old Billy was bitterly disappointed at not being cast as Joseph in the church school Nativity pageant. He was given the minor role of the innkeeper instead. Throughout the weeks of rehearsal he brooded on how he could avenge himself on his little brother, John, who had been awarded the part of Joseph. On the day of the performance, John as Joseph and his sister Abby as Mary made their entrance and knocked on the door of the inn. Billy the innkeeper opened it a fraction and eyed them with suspicion. Joseph implored, “Can you give us board and lodging for the night?” He then stood back awaiting the expected rejection. But Billy had not plotted all those weeks for nothing. Oh no! He flung the door wide open, smiled and shouted, “Come in, come in! You shall have the best room in the hotel.” There was a long pause. Then with great presence of mind, Wayne turned and said to Kelly, “Hold on. I’ll take a look inside first.” He peered in past the innkeeper, shook his head firmly, and said, “I’m not taking my wife into a filthy place like this. Come on Mary, I’d rather sleep in a stable.” And with that the Christmas pageant was back on course.
Today, we celebrate the arrival of Emmanuel, of God with us, of God taking on flesh so as to dwell with the human race in the person of Jesus Christ. What is worthy of our reflection this Christmas day, however, is the manner in which the Son of God came. From the moment of his arrival, this child was treated like an unwelcome stranger, almost an outcast. He was deprived of the comforts that normally surrounded birth, he was born away from the home of his parents, away from the warmth and love of an extended family. He was not visited by friendly neighbors but by shepherds, a class of people considered unclean because of their occupation. Soon enough news of his lowly birth caused King Herod to seek after his death by killing all male children in his kingdom who were under 2 years old in an effort to keep his own power. There was no room in the inn, there was no room in the world, there was no room in the hearts of humankind to receive God, and so Jesus came into this world as a stranger in the manger.
Sadly, many of our world’s children are still born into unclean conditions, come from broken families, and live as refugees no longer welcome in their home, if they are welcomed into the world at all. But it’s not just our newborns who come among us as if they are strangers disrupting the tranquility of our lives; are we not more and more treating each other as strangers too? We can say that during the last years, strangers have become more subject to hostility than hospitality. The assumption is that strangers are dangerous to us, and it is up to them to prove otherwise. In fact, we have protected our residences with double locks and video camera doorbells, we screen our phone calls, and even our schools and sporting arenas are lined with armed guards and metal detectors. People who are unfamiliar, speak another language, are of a different color, wear a different type of clothing, practice a different faith, follow a different political ideology, and live a different lifestyle than ours make us suspicious, afraid, and even hostile. Our hearts might desire to help others but meanwhile we have surrounded ourselves with a wall of fear and unreceptive feelings, instinctively avoiding people and places where strangers are lurking. Indeed, fear and hostility are not limited to our encounters with burglars, drug addicts, or strangely behaving types. In a world so pervaded with competition, even those who are very close to each other, such as classmates, teammates, co-actors in a play, colleagues at work, can become infected by fear and hostility when they experience each other as a threat to their intellectual or professional safety or health and wellbeing. Many places meant to bring people closer together and help them form a peaceful community have degenerated into mental battlefields and are held responsible for the personal burdens we carry around with us everywhere we go. The technology and social media created to foster connections between us, has only given rise to more bullying and harassment and shaming than ever before. The tension between us is so tangible.
As long as we continue to regard the strangers in our midst with hostility instead of hospitality, then Jesus will continue to be for us a stranger in the manger, even today. Hospitality therefore, is such an important attitude. To convert hostility into hospitality requires the creation of the friendly space where we can reach out to our fellow human beings and invite them to something new. And if we expect any salvation, redemption, healing, and new life, the first thing we need is an open, receptive place where something can happen to us – because we cannot change the world by a new plan, project, or idea. We cannot change attitudes by hiding behind laws and forcing others to kindness. We cannot even change other people by our own convictions, stories, advice, or proposals, but we can offer a space where such a change can occur, where people are encouraged to disarm themselves, to lay aside their preoccupations and to listen with attention to each other’s hearts and recognize God’s presence in each other. Indeed, that is what Jesus did. He created that space in himself. Jesus came into this world as a stranger, so that all of us who are estranged from one another might know the presence of God. On that note, please know that you are always welcome and that you encounter him here.
Indeed, it belongs to the core of our Christian faith that God did not reveal himself to us this Christmas Day as the powerful Other, unapproachable in all his divine attributes. Instead, he came to us in the child Jesus, who did not cling to his equality with God but emptied himself and became as human beings are, and was humbler still, living on the margins and accepting a shameful death on a cross. So, it is God himself who reveals to us the movement of our spiritual life. It is not the movement from weakness to power, but the movement in which we become less and less fearful and defensive and more and more open to encountering the other, even amidst our own vulnerabilities and many struggles. As long as we continue to regard the strangers in our midst with hostility instead of hospitality, then Jesus will continue to be for us a stranger in the manger. So this Christmas, like Billy the innkeeper who declared: “Come in, come in! You shall have the best room in the hotel,” so let us learn to make room for others in the inns of our hearts and thus recognize Christ in the face of the strangers among us.
The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom
a light has shone.
You have brought them abundant joy
and great rejoicing,
as they rejoice before you as at the harvest,
as people make merry when dividing spoils.
For the yoke that burdened them,
the pole on their shoulder,
and the rod of their taskmaster
you have smashed, as on the day of Midian.
For every boot that tramped in battle,
every cloak rolled in blood,
will be burned as fuel for flames.
For a child is born to us, a son is given us;
upon his shoulder dominion rests.
They name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero,
Father-Forever, Prince of Peace.
His dominion is vast
and forever peaceful,
from David’s throne, and over his kingdom,
which he confirms and sustains
by judgment and justice,
both now and forever.
The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this!
- (Lk 2:11) Today is born our Savior, Christ the Lord.
Sing to the LORD a new song;
sing to the LORD, all you lands.
Sing to the LORD; bless his name.
R.Today is born our Savior, Christ the Lord.
Announce his salvation, day after day.
Tell his glory among the nations;
among all peoples, his wondrous deeds.
R. Today is born our Savior, Christ the Lord.
Let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice;
let the sea and what fills it resound;
let the plains be joyful and all that is in them!
Then shall all the trees of the forest exult.
R. Today is born our Savior, Christ the Lord.
They shall exult before the LORD, for he comes;
for he comes to rule the earth.
He shall rule the world with justice
and the peoples with his constancy.
R. Today is born our Savior, Christ the Lord.
The grace of God has appeared, saving all
and training us to reject godless ways and worldly desires
and to live temperately, justly, and devoutly in this age,
as we await the blessed hope,
the appearance of the glory of our great God
and savior Jesus Christ,
who gave himself for us to deliver us from all lawlessness
and to cleanse for himself a people as his own,
eager to do what is good.
- Alleluia, alleluia.
I proclaim to you good news of great joy:
today a Savior is born for us,
Christ the Lord.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus
that the whole world should be enrolled.
This was the first enrollment,
when Quirinius was governor of Syria.
So all went to be enrolled, each to his own town.
And Joseph too went up from Galilee from the town of Nazareth
to Judea, to the city of David that is called Bethlehem,
because he was of the house and family of David,
to be enrolled with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child.
While they were there,
the time came for her to have her child,
and she gave birth to her firstborn son.
She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger,
because there was no room for them in the inn.
Now there were shepherds in that region living in the fields
and keeping the night watch over their flock.
The angel of the Lord appeared to them
and the glory of the Lord shone around them,
and they were struck with great fear.
The angel said to them,
“Do not be afraid;
for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy
that will be for all the people.
For today in the city of David
a savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord.
And this will be a sign for you:
you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes
and lying in a manger.”
And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel,
praising God and saying:
“Glory to God in the highest
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”