Christmas Eve

“She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room in the inn.”  And I doubt Scripture was talking about the Holiday Inn complete with internet and HBO.  I suspect, that, with all the very sad trouble going on in the Middle East, that there is plenty of room in the various inns tonight.  But in that year zero, when our gospel account took place, Caesar decided to hold a census, and each citizen from David’s line was ordered to come to Bethlehem to be counted.  So everybody from the surrounding area all flocked in to little Bethlehem, filling the town to overflowing.

The guests at all those little inns, as they enjoyed the hospitality, probably thought, as they snuggled up in their warm beds, that whatever was going on in the rest of the world could go on just fine without them.  Caesar, in calling the census, gave them what amounted to a de facto holiday, an impromptu vacation.  The business of the world could wait another day.

The innkeeper, I’m sure, felt badly about having to turn a pregnant woman and her husband away on such a cold night when she was in such a “delicate condition.”  Mary wasn’t just pregnant; she was really pregnant.  They were late arriving into town because, having to travel in her condition, they had no choice but to go slowly.  And so, arriving hours after they would have  had she not been great with child,  the innkeeper, sadly, was about to turn them away.  He was quite possibly the tenth or fifteenth innkeeper to do so.  “But,” he said compassionately, “I just can’t send you completely away in your condition.  I’m a little embarrassed by this, but you are welcome to stay in our stable tonight.”

Ever been in a stable?  I was in one in North Dakota, a cow barn actually; when I visited my friend Father Kadlec’s parent’s farm.  They smell really bad.  And it's clear that they aren’t particularly warm places to spend the night.  As we returned to the farmhouse out on the prairie, I was glad to be able to turn in to a nice, warm bed.  I can just imagine what it must have been like as Mary and Joseph spent the night under those extremely delicate conditions.  And I wonder if those angelic, kneeling figures we buy for our little manger crèches with their peaceful faces even come close to what was their real expressions!  We see those figurines with their hands together in prayer.  My guess is that they were actually holding their noses!

Meanwhile, in the inn, the innkeeper has forgotten all about Mary and Joseph.  He’s gone back to the business of providing hospitality to the paying customers.  Perhaps they heard through the grapevine of dinnertime conversation, that an unfortunate couple is staying out in the barn.  Perhaps they shuddered at the prospect for a moment or so, and then I’m sure they quickly forgot as the wine continued to flow.  Had they known exactly what was actually going on, that the Savior of the World was being born just feet away, one wonders if they would have been so very complacent about the incredible event going on right under their noses.  Noses not blighted by the smells of the stable, that is.

And that’s my point this beautiful Christmas Eve evening.  Throughout Advent we listened to the words of John the Baptist as he proclaimed that the Lord was near.  Did we pay attention to the signs around us, the clear indications that Christ is right in our midst, really right under our noses?  As we scurried around, buying the tree, buying the presents, entertaining our guests, did we stop and realize what the festivities were really all about?

It really wasn’t the fault of those in the inn for not understanding what was going on.  Their little world couldn’t possibly have been expansive enough to see the big picture.  If they are to be blamed for anything, it has to be for not being able to connect the dots as to what the prophets had said for hundreds of years, but God is a forgiving God who is gentle with the ignorant, and doesn’t hold them to account.  But we don't have the same excuse.    We know what happened in that inhospitable stable over 2000 years ago, and that is that the Savior of the World, the King of Kings, became flesh and began to dwell among us.  And that gives us a responsibility: a responsibility to know, love and serve God, who out of sheer love for us despite our fallen brokenness, became incarnate for our salvation.  A responsibility not just to think of Jesus once in a while during holidays and such, but to enwrap ourselves in his life as fully and completely as he enwrapped himself in ours. 

And so, Christmas challenges us to understand not with the closed eyes of the people in Bethlehem that night but with the enlightened eyes of Joseph and Mary.  Christmas is a time to challenge ourselves to see what Joseph and Mary saw as they gazed upon their newborn divine Son, as the angels hovered in adoration, as the shepherds saw and believed.

There were thousands of people in Bethlehem that first Christmas night, and no one besides a very few, in the busy-ness and hubbub figured out what was happening right there in their midst and right under their noses.  They were too busy with the business of the world to see that heaven itself had visited them, inviting them to change their lives and to see and hear the Good News that they might be saved.  They might have thought they could see and understand everything; too bad that in reality, their vision was so very limited as to miss the most important event in the history of the world.

Let us make sure we’re not too busy with the things of this world to notice the wonder born this night into our midst.  To do so would be a giant shame.  Christ Jesus Himself has been born this night to this hungry world, the watching and waiting of Advent is now over and from a humble stable, the world has been renewed.  Let us rejoice and be glad that God so loved the world that he sent his only-begotten Son to dwell among us!  Let us rejoice that God in His love had nothing else to do that first Christmas night than to love His Son, love His Son’s parents, and to love the world, that is, us, who so desperately need the love of God.  That is the greatest Christmas present of all, my friends: the gift of God’s love, to which I in turn wish each and every one of you and your families.  May God bless you this Christmas of 2021 and prosper your families with abundant joy and blessings.  Amen.  Merry Christmas!

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