No room in the inn
To help the hearers make room for Jesus Christ.
But with those two words, “No room,” he had missed out on the greatest opportunity life would ever offer him.
“NO ROOM IN THE INN .”
Christmas Midnight. Lk. 2:1-14.
AIM: To help the hearers make room for Jesus Christ.
We have less hard information about Jesus’ birth than most people suppose. We don’t even know the date: December 25th was not selected until the fourth century. Nor do we know exactly where Mary gave birth to her child, save that it was not in what then passed for an inn at Bethlehem .
The innkeeper was a busy man in those days. The roads were full of travelers, because of the Roman-imposed census, which required people to return to their native town to be placed on the tax rolls. There was much to do at the inn, and money to be made. According to the age-old law of supply and demand, guests were doubled up, and prices raised. When Mary and Joseph appeared at his door, the innkeeper saw at once that these humble travelers were not the kind of guests he was looking for. He might have said, “You can’t afford it.” Instead he told them, a bit more tactfully, “No room” — and slammed the door. The innkeeper never knew it. But with those two words, “No room,” he had missed out on the greatest opportunity life would ever offer him.
It would be unfair to portray the Bethlehem innkeeper as a bad person. His words to Mary and Joseph, “No room,” would be repeated often in the next three decades. For the world to which Jesus came had in truth no room for him, though it was his world. As we shall hear tomorrow, in our third Christmas gospel: “He came to what was his own, but his own people did not accept him” (Jn. 1:11).
The ancient world into which Jesus was born had in Rome a temple called the Pantheon, with room for a hundred gods. But for the Son of the one true God there was no room in Rome ’s Pantheon. Nor was there room for him in his own country — until people finally found room for him: on a hill called Calvary .
Has the situation changed in two thousand years? Would there be room for Jesus Christ if he were to come to the world today? to St. Louis ? A person would have to be bold indeed to be confident of an affirmative answer to that question. Down through the centuries, and still today, the innkeeper’s words resound: “No room, no room.” And doors are slammed at his approach.
Why is there no room for Jesus Christ? Because people are afraid — afraid that if they give him room, he will take too much room; that little by little this man will take over their lives, changing their interests, their priorities, their plans, until they are no longer recognizable.
Is this fear justified? It is. If we admit Jesus Christ, he will indeed change our lives, and us. He will take all the room there is. No wonder that people are afraid. “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God,” we read in the letter to the Hebrews (10:31).
There is, however, something even more fearful. It is this: to try to shut out this guest. For unlike other travelers, Jesus will not go away. He will continue to knock on our door, no matter how often we tell him, “No room.” The hand with which he knocks bears the print of the nails which pierced him in the place where, finally, people did find room for him. His persistence, like his patience and his love, are more than super-human. They are divine. He is the personification of the love that will never let us go.
Today, in this hour, Jesus Christ is asking for room in your life. He asks one thing, and one thing alone: that you open the door.
Some verses of an old hymn, little known to Catholics, say it best. O Jesus, you are standing, outside the fast-closed door,
In lowly patience waiting, to pass the threshold o’er.
Shame on us, Christian people, his name and sign who bear,
Shame, thrice shame upon us, to keep him standing there.
O Jesus, you are knocking, and lo, that hand is scarred,
And thorns your brow encircle, and tears your face have marred.
O love that passes knowledge, so patiently to wait.
O sin that has no equal, so fast to bar the gate!
O Jesus, you are pleading, in accents meek and low,
“I died for you, my children, and will you treat me so?”
O Lord, with shame and sorrow, we open now the door;
Dear Savior enter, enter, and leave us nevermore.
WHAT THE SHEPHERDS FOUND.
Christmas, at Dawn. Titus 3:4-7; Lk 2:15-20.
AIM: To instil a sense of wonder and joy at the incarnation.
The world’s great religions, someone has said, are all about the same thing: our search for God. To this general statement there is an important exception. Christianity, and its parent, Judaism, are concerned not with our search for God, but with God’s search for us. At Christmas we celebrate God’s search, and his coming to us, in a special way. The readings at this Mass give us answers to three important questions about God’s coming. They tell us how God comes, when he comes, and why.
How does God come?
He comes in very ordinary and humble circumstances, to very ordinary and humble people. There was nothing dramatic about the birth of Mary’s child at Bethlehem . Few people took any notice — only a few outsiders, and three crackpot eccentrics.
Shepherds were outsiders in the ancient world. Without fixed abode, like gypsies today, they were mistrusted by respectable people. Since they frequently grazed their flocks on other people’s land, shepherds were considered too dishonest to be witnesses in court. Because their irregular lives made it impossible for them to observe the strict Sabbath and dietary laws, observant Jews held them in disdain.
The so-called Wise Men, whose visit we commemorate at Epiphany, were eccentrics: astrologers of some kind from God knows where, who set off on a madcap journey, following a star. We call them wise. To their contemporaries they were screwballs who were not playing with a full deck.
Nor was the scene which these visitors found at Bethlehem as attractive as we make it appear in our Christmas cribs. If Jesus were born today, it would probably be in a cardboard shack with a roof of corrugated iron in Africa, or somewhere in Latin America, without electricity or water: smelly, drafty, and cold.
How does God come? He comes in ordinary and humble surroundings, to people who live on the margin of society. That is how God came on the first Christmas. It is how he comes today.
When does God come?
He comes when we least expect him — when people have given up expecting him altogether. Matthew and Luke emphasize Jesus’ descent from the great King David, and Jesus’ birth “in David’s city” (Mt 1:17; Lk 1:27, 2: 4 & 11). They wanted to show that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah, whose birth “of the house of David” the prophets had long foretold.
Almost six centuries before Jesus’ birth, however, David’s royal house had come to an end. The revival of his long extinct dynasty after so great an interval was, humanly speaking, impossible. Moreover, the imperial census, which brought Joseph and Mary to David’s city, Bethlehem , was a humiliating reminder to their people that the nation over which David had once ruled as king was now governed by a foreign emperor across the sea. Rome , not Jerusalem , was the center of the world into which Jesus was born. At the very moment in which that world was set in motion by an imperial decree from its center, God was acting in an unimportant village on the edge of the empire in an obscure event from which we continue, twenty centuries later, to number our years.
Unthinkable? Impossible? Precisely! That is how God normally acts. He comes to us when we are least expecting him; when we have ceased expecting him at all. He comes in ways that stagger the imagination and demolish our conception of the possible. The creator of the universe comes as a tiny baby, born of a virgin.
Why does he do it? Why does God come at all?
To these questions our second reading gives us the answer: “When the kindness and generous love of God our savior appeared, [he saved us] not because of any righteous deeds we had done but because of his mercy.”
God’s coming is not a reward for services rendered. He chose to come to us at the first Christmas for the same reason he comes to us today: not because we are good enough, but because he is so good, and so loving, that he wants to share his love with us, his unworthy, erring, and sinful children.
This explains too why he chose outsiders and eccentrics as the first witnesses of his coming. Before him we are all outsiders, all eccentrics. Before God we are all marginal, as the shepherds were, and the wise men. It is His love, and His alone, which draws us in from the darkness and cold of the margin to the light and warmth of the center.
It is because God gave us his love at the first Christmas that we give gifts to one another at this season. The love God gave us then, and continues to give us today, is neither distant, nor abstract. God’s love is a person who is very close to us. His name is Jesus Christ.
“THE WORD WAS MADE FLESH.”
Christmas Mass during the day. Heb. 1:1-6; Jn 1:1-18.
AIM: To explain the Incarnation and its significance for us.
It’s a strange gospel for Christmas, isn’t it? Where, we ask, are the shepherds, the manger, Mary and Joseph? Where is their child? Instead of these familiar Christmas figures we have heard about abstractions: light and darkness, the Word becoming flesh.
Let’s start with another word: “incarnation.” It means “taking on flesh, embodiment.” This building is the incarnation of an idea in the mind of the architect who designed it. It is the incarnation or embodiment too of the sacrifices that made its construction possible. Children are the incarnation of their parents’ love. And Jesus is the incarnation of God.
We cannot see God. Jesus shows us what God is like. That is why this Christmas gospel calls Jesus God’s Word. A word is used to communicate. Jesus is God’s word because he is God’s communication to us: not a lifeless, abstract statement, but God’s living and breathing utterance and self-disclosure.
When we listen to Jesus, we hear God speaking to us. When we look at Jesus, we see what God is like. What do we see when we look at Jesus? We see that he preferred simple, ordinary people. He came to the world in a provincial village where nothing interesting or important ever happened. Jesus moved not among wealthy or sophisticated people, or among scholars and intellectuals, but among ordinary people. They were the ones who welcomed him most warmly. The rich and powerful and learned had difficulties with Jesus. Many were hostile to him. That was true then. It remains true today.
Jesus was of the earth, earthy. In his youth he worked with his hands in the carpenter’s shop. His teaching was full of references to simple things: the birds of the air, the wind and the raging waves, the lilies of the field, the vine, the lost sheep, the woman searching for her one lost coin, leavening dough with yeast, the thief breaking in at night. Those were images that everyone could understand. Jesus taught also in parables: stories so simple that they capture the interest of children; yet so profound that learned scholars are still studying them today.
In preferring simple people and simple things, Jesus was showing us what God is like. He who is God’s utterance and word, God’s personal communication to us, is saying through all the circumstances of his life that God loves humble people. God is especially close to those who feel that they are not in control of their lives; that they are the victims of circumstances; that their lives are a tangle of loose ends and broken resolutions.
In his earthiness Jesus shows us God’s love for this world and everything in it. Often we think of God and religion as concerned only with some higher, spiritual realm. That is wrong! God loves the earth and the things of earth. He must love them, because he made them. And God does not make anything that is not lovable. As John, the writer of today’s gospel, tells us in a later chapter: “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son” (Jn 3:16).
It is because God gave us his Son at Christmas that we give gifts to one another. The greatest gift we can give cannot be bought in any store. You cannot order it from an 800-number or over the Internet. You cannot wrap it. You cannot send it through the mail, by UPS or Federal Express. It is the gift God gave us at Christmas: the gift of himself. Even as a baby Jesus is God’s personal word and communication to us. In the words of our second reading, he is “the refulgence [that means the shining forth] of [God’s] glory, the very imprint of his being.”
Look at Mary’s child: helpless, vulnerable, and weak, as all babies are. He is God’s way of saying: ‘This is how much the Lord God, creator of heaven and earth, loves you; enough to be become tiny, insignificant, vulnerable.’ Jesus, the personal utterance and word of God, is God’s gift to you. He wants you to share this gift with others. You do so when, like God himself, you give yourself to others: when, like Jesus, you too love the company of ordinary people; when, like him, you remain close to the earth and the things of earth.
In a few moments we shall be offered our greatest and most important Christmas gift: the body and blood of our Lord, of Jesus who is God’s personal word to each one of us. The consecrated bread and wine of the Eucharist are Christ’s body and blood: all his power, all his goodness, all his love. He offers all this to us:
— not as a reward for services rendered;
— not because we are good enough (for none of us is);
— but because he is so good that he wants to share his power, his goodness, and his love with us.
Jesus gives us this greatest of all gifts under one strict condition: that what we here receive, we generously share with others.