An Apologia (or Explanatory Note): Christmas and Easter are the most celebratory occasions of the year for Christians, with churches filled to overcapacity; in some cases, by many who for a variety of reasons are not regular attendees. Happy to welcome the merry throng, I long ago relinquished any desire to question or any need to judge those who make annual or semiannual pilgrimages to the church. Moreover, taking into compassionate consideration the human tolerance for (perhaps intolerance of) long sermons, especially for those unaccustomed to listening to (or sitting through!) them, o’er the years, I have tailored my Christmas and Easter messages to be brief with one primary point.
A mother lays her baby in a filthy manger in the squalor of a dank, rank stable, for there was no room in the inn. The reason doesn’t matter. The negligence of a heartless innkeeper refusing to find lodging for a needy family? The coincidence of the inn already being filled by others coming to be registered? Something else? Whatever the reason, this story often is viewed as a sorrowful portrait of privation, a woeful example of exclusion.
I see a story of hope. A story that reflects our desire for the way we want life, the world to be. A desire deep and abiding precisely because it seldom is achieved, and whenever realized never long-lasting.
Hope is why this story has captivating power. Why we read it every year. Why we gather annually to hear it. All to remind ourselves of the way things are meant to be.
Let us listen again.
This baby, according to his-story, grew up and became for many then (and, according to history, for countless thereafter is believed to be) the embodiment of love, the kindness for which our souls cry, and justice, the fairness for which our hearts hunger. This baby found no room in the inn and was laid in a manger.
An inn is a lodging place for visitors, foreigners. A temporary house for those who are not at home. For aliens who do not belong. A manger is a place for food where those who hunger are fed.
This Jesus, the embodiment of love and justice, is no visitor, no foreigner, so he need never lodge in the inn, but rather lying in a manger, he is the feast!
Is it possible, then, that love and justice are the food of which we are to partake so to become what we eat? Is it possible that as love and justice are embodied in our lives we, others, God Herself will behold that kindness and fairness are not alien, unknown, but alive, at home in this world?
If we embrace and embody that hope, then we this Christmas Day and every day will make all the difference in this world.