CHRISTMAS EVE - A - 16 LUKE 2. 1-20
“While they were there (Bethlehem), the time came for her to be delivered. And she gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.”
I have been fortunate enough to have visited Bethlehem on two separate occasions. It is not a very large place even today, and at the time of Jesus’ birth it was even much smaller.
I have stood on the Shepherd’s hill and gazed down at the site of Jesus‘ birth, where the Church of Holy Nativity stands today. I closed my eyes and tried to envision what the little town of Bethlehem must have looked like on that night the Holy Family faced the challenge of trying to find a room.
There were simply not enough inns or rooms available for all those who had come for the census. Thanks to the Roman Emperor who called for a census in order to raise taxes the place was packed. That’s the reason the Holy Family was there. That’s the reason there was no room for them in the inn.
What was a political occasion for all those who had come to Bethlehem suddenly became a religious one for those lowly shepherds who left their flocks on the hillside. Having at first been startled by the angels’ message, they quickly recovered and descended to a common manger, with the angel’s song still ringing in their ears, to see their new-born king.
“When they saw this,” Luke tells us, “they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them.”
Pope Benedict pointed out in his book “Jesus of Nazareth” the very fact that there was no room for them in the inn should cause us to reflect on the reversal of values found in Jesus Christ and his message. From the moment of his birth, he belongs outside the realm of what is important and powerful in worldly terms.
But alas, that is not what many of us think of at Christmas. Because of the commercialism surrounding it today, the real meaning of Christmas is often lost beneath the mad rush of buying and wrapping, fighting traffic, standing in line, and beating the dead line at the post office.
We no longer count the days of Advent, but rather the shopping days until Christmas. Cashiers no longer greet the customer with Merry Christmas, or Happy Holidays as they ring up a sale, but rather, with “please turn your card around the other way the chip is on the other end!”
When we talk about getting back to the “real meaning” of Christmas, what we mean of course, is the religious meaning. Christmas is the celebration of the birth of our Lord. Christmas is about what God in Christ is doing in and for the world, the joy, the grace, the hope and the peace which the birth of the Christ-child brings into our lives.
Christmas is a Holy day.
It is a sad failure that Christmas must now take place in a materialistic environment which obscures its genuine splendor. However, Luke reminds us that the very first Christmas, the day of Christ’ birth, was not a holy day, but a working day. Jesus was not born during a worship service but during a tax census.
The day Jesus was born was a time for filling out forms, people standing in long lines to beat the dead line for being counted, snarled traffic in the streets, and crowds everywhere. There was not a room to be found. A simple manger would have to do.
When the angels announced the Christ-child’s birth, it was not to priests lighting candles in the Temple, it was to shepherds earning their livelihood in the fields. The true meaning of Christmas was being revealed to the world. God had entered the world in flesh and blood in Jesus Christ. And the angels could not help but sing.
God did not choose to enter the safe world of silent sanctuaries and hallowed spaces, but the rough and tumble, workaday world of people with jobs to do, fields to tend, more anxiety than they know how to deal with, and the government asking for more taxes. If this were not so, the news of Christmas would not be the good news that it is.
No wonder the shepherds, upon hearing the news that a Savior had been born, dropped everything, and hurried to see for themselves if what the angels had told them was really true. Wouldn’t you? Isn’t this why we are here; to hear the good news of the Savior’s birth proclaimed; to hear the angels sing?
And afterwards, like the shepherds who were the first to hear the good news, we may return home with joy glorifying God and praising him for what we have seen and heard. The joy of Christmas is ours to keep year round, day in and day out, but only if we make room for Him in the manger of our hearts.
Christmas is a Holy day that comes in the midst of all that we do and all that we are. Christmas stands as a reminder that God has come to us and continues to come to us in the ordinariness of our lives bringing joy, grace, hope and peace by the gift of His extraordinary Love.
Like the shepherds, who after seeing the Christ-child for themselves made known what had been told them about this child, we as Church, have been given the responsibility to see that the real meaning of Christmas is not lost in a sea of commercialism, but remains what it is - a Holy day.
That’s the challenge of Christmas we face, you and I; a challenge with God’s help we joyfully accept in Thanksgiving for the Love of God that sent Jesus into our world, bringing salvation to all.
“While they were there (Bethlehem), the time came for her to be delivered. And she gave birth to her first born son and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.”
May there always be room for Him in our hearts. Merry Christmas. AMEN+