The “Christmas pageant” is a familiar part of our holiday experience – sometimes even taking a more important place than Christmas Mass! We’ve all, probably, had some role to play in a Nativity play at some point or another – like a shepherd, or an angel, a wise man, or a donkey (like me). It’s almost expected, like the tree, and eggnog, and carols.
But take a moment to look at that scene. This is the result of the innkeeper opening the door. A stable with the customary animals, straw, a manger, and Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. Of all the newborns in Bethlehem at that time, only One was in the cold; only One was surrounded by barnyard animals; only One was lying in a feeding trough.
And we are okay with this. We set such scenes up in our homes and churches and front lawns. Often with a chubby, smiling little baby with open arms ready to receive me. But is this what Christmas is? Should we be okay with the fact that our Lord was born in such squalor and anonymity? Even more: do our lives reflect that fact?
Upon hearing this familiar story, maybe we can stop and ask ourselves these questions: Are we okay with Jesus – the Lord God Almighty – sleeping His first night on Earth in a manger? If we were the innkeeper, would we open the door? Do we have room for Him – or is it somehow “room to spare?” What is occupying that space for Jesus right now?
Friends, the beauty and joy of Christmas comes from the fact that God has looked upon us with tender love and has given us the Gift closest to His Heart: His only Son. This is no “throwaway” gift, not a “regift,” or simple donation. God is giving to us from His very Self – a Gift of infinite love and peace. There is no price on this Gift – there can’t be – save for the cost of opening the door to Him and giving Him a place prepared for Him – warm, beloved, meaningful.
However, I would wager that, usually, that space we would give Jesus is occupied by many other things. Our concerns and anxieties about our lives, our children’s futures, our health, the state of the world, and a million other worries, by their very pressing natures can steal the spotlight from even the most important things – even Christ. This is why we need this moment of grace and peace, why we need Christmas. Jesus was in that manger because no one had room for Him otherwise.
There is nothing wrong with our Nativity scenes. They are blessed reminders of the greatest Gift God has given us. That “upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone.” They are also reminders to us that we need to prepare the messy stable of our hearts to receive the King of Kings. In the charming Mexican tradition of Las Posadas, children reenact the journey of Joseph and Mary through Bethlehem, seeking a place to rest, just as in the Nativity plays we know here. It goes like this:
In the name of Heaven This is not an inn
I beg you for lodging, so keep going
for she cannot walk I cannot open
my beloved wife. you may be a rogue.
Don’t be inhuman; You can go on now
Have mercy on us. and don’t bother us,
The God of the heavens because if I become annoyed
will reward you for it. I’ll give you a trashing.
We are worn out I don’t care about your name:
coming from Nazareth. Let me sleep,
I am a carpenter, because I already told you
Joseph by name. we shall not open up.
I’m asking you for lodging Well, if it’s a queen who solicits it,
dear man of the house why is it at night
Just for one night that she travels so alone?
for the Queen of Heaven.
My wife is Mary Are you Joseph?
She’s the Queen of Heaven Your wife is Mary?
and she’s going to be Enter, pilgrims;
the mother of the Divine Word. I did not recognize you.
May God pay, gentle folks, Blessed is the house
your charity, that shelters this day
and thus heaven the pure Virgin,
heap happiness upon you. the beautiful Mary.
All: Come in, holy pilgrims!
Receive this corner!
Because, even though the place is poor
I offer it to you from my heart!
Let's sing with joy!
Everyone at the thought!
That Jesus, Joseph and Mary
Came today to honor us!
Christmas is the chance that we get to be uncomfortable with Christ’s discomfort – with Mary and Joseph’s struggle. It is in this very scene that we find true “comfort and joy.” But that can only be meaningful if we learn to make room in our lives for them to find rest. In fact, only when we seriously offer to Jesus a place in our hearts for Him to find rest will we find that peace that the angels proclaim. “Peace on earth” is what they offer, because of Jesus’ birth, and that peace comes from giving “glory to God in the highest.” That glory, tonight, starts with looking down, at a baby in a manger. It starts with us looking down, into our own hearts, and setting aside the cares and worries that occupy us and make room for the Lord.
When they come and knock at our doors, may we be exactly the person Jesus would want to answer the door.