December 25, 2016: The Nativity of the Lord
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.” (Luke 2:1-14)
This is a story filled with wonder – the shepherd’s awe and great fear, a “multitude of the heavenly hosts”, the earth feeling the birth of Jesus. And yet, with all of these images, the one that sits most deeply with me is the manger – “because there was no room for them at the inn.”
I let that thought, that image of Jesus Christ in swaddling clothes – just born – lying in a manager because there is no room, percolate through me. Where else in my life do I lack “room at the inn”? Who are those being kept outside because I fail in providing hospitality? What leaders am I supporting who fail to make efforts to unite, include and welcome those in need of an inn? Where have I allowed my own loving heart, the “inn” of my very being, to be closed to someone who wants and needs my opening to inviting them inside my life? Have I ever deeply examined my own rules and policies about who gets in? Have I ever really imagined how I might live Christmas differently this year?
Pay attention during the coming week. Notice where hospitality and care is most present and tangible. Let yourself truly explore how “being welcome at the inn” feels.
What always amazes me in these Christmas stories are the words of the angel messengers: Fear not; Do not be afraid. Even amid the awe and wonder, the promise of glad tidings and great news and joy is the gentle and encouraging reminder: fear not; do not be afraid. Mary heard these words at the Annunciation; Joseph heard them in the dream about taking Mary as his wife; the shepherds heard them when the angels appeared in the hills near Bethlehem. Jesus even echoed these words to the apostles when he walked toward them on the water, when he appeared to them after the resurrection, and when he ascended into heaven. Plenty of occasions to inspire fear amid the awe and wonder.
There’s always the fear and apprehension at starting something new — school, a job, a new phase of life. In our uncertain and sometimes frightening world, it is consoling and encouraging to remember those words: Fear Not! Do not be afraid! Jesus promised to remain with us always. And wouldn’t it be wonderful to hear those words at the moment of death as well?