God comes to us this season
“She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” (Luke 2: 7)
For an event that has inspired such awe through the ages, the Gospels are relatively sparse in details about the birth of Jesus.
The details that we do have tell a story about a family coping in circumstances beyond their control.
The most extensive account is in the second chapter of the Gospel of Luke. There we find the famous phrases about a decree from the mighty Roman authorities conducting a census, so that the humble Joseph brings Mary to Bethlehem, his ancestral home. Luke notes that the baby was born in a manger, a place for animals to feed, because “there was no room for them in the inn.”
The first to hear the words of the angels about this birth are not the powerful but simple shepherds, an uneducated crew with a somewhat sour reputation, men who were seen as uncouth, set aside in their fields, not part of the civilizing influence of town life. Perhaps it’s a reminder that if we seek Jesus at Christmas, we are sure to find him among those we often seek to avoid.
Flash forward more than 2,000 years. Our times are no longer flush; many families in South Jersey and beyond feel besieged by circumstances of job loss, sickness and poverty. Some of us may have once felt a control over our own destiny, but found that embracing the gospel of individualism is, eventually, a hollow piece of news.
But there is good news, another, better gospel.
At the beginning of the Advent season, I had the opportunity to chat with our young adults group in a “Theology on Tap” session. In an informal tavern atmosphere, I shared a bit about my own faith journey and listened to what their concerns were about the church.
One message from the young people came out loud and clear: they wanted a church engaged in the sufferings and struggles they see around them. They wanted to make the incarnation real in the world. They yearned to embrace a community that made space for the coming of Jesus as experienced through his poor.
In this season, we find that more and more of us are clinging to the person of Jesus, that even in the commercial gloss of this season we remain ever more reliant on this infant born in the humblest of circumstances.
God comes to us this season, through the proclamation of the Gospel, the Eucharist and in the welcoming love of our families and those who reach beyond to embrace the struggling immigrant, the neighbor coping on unemployment, or an elderly friend who lives alone.
May we find room at the inn in our hearts for Jesus this Christmas. May he fill our actions, our hearts and our souls in 2011. May we welcome him with open hearts through the warmth and support we offer to the materially and spiritually poor among us. This year, may we have room in the inn.
May the news heard by the shepherds touch all our hearts this year, bringing wonder, peace and joy!