Christmas 2021 • Christmas 2021 at St. Luke’s

A most blessed Christmas to everyone as we celebrate the birth of a baby in Bethlehem about 2000 years ago – not just any baby, but the King of Kings, God made man, Jesus Christ our Savior and Lord. Several years ago, around Christmastime I visited a class of 1st graders at Corpus Christi Catholic school in Holland and asked them to close their eyes and imagine that they were in the stable in Bethlehem where Baby Jesus lay. I had them picture Mary and Joseph, the sheep and the goats, etc. One boy then solemnly and definitively announced, “There’s a cow there.” Sure, if you want a cow in the corner, that’s fine.

We are all familiar with the story of the birth of Jesus. There are four different sets of readings for the Christmas Masses – one set for Christmas Eve, one for the Mass during the night, one for the Mass at dawn, and one for the Mass during the day. The Gospel readings cover different parts of the story – how an angel appeared to Joseph to tell him not to divorce Mary because she was with child; how Joseph and Mary had to travel to Bethlehem because of a census and how Mary there gave birth to Jesus and laid him in a manger because there was no room for them at the inn; how the birth of Jesus was announced to shepherds in a nearby field, who then went to give honor to the newborn King.
I think we know the story of Jesus’ birth well. And there are many different things we can focus on from this story. Jesus’ birth, after all, is, along with His death and resurrection, central to everything we believe. But I would like to focus on just one part of the story: the very short line that appears in Luke’s account of the birth of Jesus that says, “There was no room for them in the inn.”
When Jesus was born into this world, a world that He had created at the beginning of time, he was born in a stable and laid in a manger because there were no rooms available in the inn in Bethlehem. Mary and Joseph had to travel from where they lived in Nazareth – about one hundred miles away from Bethlehem – to comply with the rules for the census that Caesar Augustus had ordered. Yet when they arrived, they couldn’t find a place to stay. Perhaps someone offered them a stable as a place to take shelter. And in this part of the world, the stable was probably a cave. Surrounded by animals – including, no doubt, at least one cow – what a humble place for the King of Kings to be born.
What humility Jesus teaches us by being born in a cave and laid in a manger, where food for the animals is put for them to eat. He wasn’t born in a palace or a mansion or a comfortable house or even a hospital; He chose to be born into the humblest of circumstances, because there was no room for him in the inn.
Even though Jesus was born 2000 years ago, we believe that he still lives. He lives and reigns in heaven of course, but he also desires to live and dwell with us. But when Jesus comes knocking at the door of our hearts, do we open it up to let him enter? Do we give a place to him in our hearts? Or do we ignore the sound of him knocking, or tell him there is no room for him with us?
Why would we not answer the door when Jesus knocks, or why would we turn him away, telling him we have no room for him? I think there could be many reasons. A big one could be: I’m too busy. There’s too much going on in my life right now; I just don’t have time. But as the saying goes, “If you’re too busy for God, you’re too busy.” Certainly, many people are very busy and are pulled in lots of different directions. But then do we still have time for TV, or video games, or social media, or the internet, or the news? If we do, then certainly we have time for God. And something related to this is: too much noise in our life. Too much distraction, too much entertainment, too much of those things I just mentioned, usually though not always involving screens of one kind or another. If there’s too much noise in our lives, it’s likely we won’t even hear the Lord knocking.
Another reason could be pride and selfishness: when we are too wrapped up in ourselves and focused on ourselves, on our needs (or our wants), on our problems, on our agenda, that we don’t pay attention to Jesus knocking at the door to our hearts, and we fail to see him present in those around us. With pride and selfishness, we put ourselves at the center of everything; everyone just kind of revolves around us. But the truth is, God is at the center, not us, and our problems or needs or wants do not make us any more or less important or valuable.
And another reason why we might not have room in our hearts for Jesus is just living a life of self-indulgence: giving in to every whim, every desire, every temptation that comes along. Not being able to say no to ourselves. If we live this way, we make it very difficult to even hear Jesus at the door. And all the temptations and pleasures fill up every space in our heart, so there would be no room for Jesus there even if we did open the door to him. Although the space in our heart would be filled up by a lot of air – kind of like living on a diet consisting solely of junk food: we might get full, but we won’t be nourished, and we won’t be healthy.
So, how do we know when Jesus is knocking at the door to our hearts? The answer is simple: if he is not already dwelling in your heart, then he is standing outside the door right now knocking and hoping you will answer. But opening the door is just the first part; we also have to welcome him and give him a place to stay. Imagine going to visit a friend or family member and after they let you in they completely ignore you; they don’t talk to you at all. How welcome would we feel? We would probably very quickly start thinking about leaving. Although we would want to leave, Jesus wouldn’t. He would stay and take whatever space we gave him, however little or insignificant it might be.
So how do we welcome Jesus? By paying attention to him, talking to him (prayer) every day and throughout the day, by giving a place of honor to him. Not the pull-out sofa with the bar down the middle that guarantees a miserable night’s sleep, but rather the comfortable king-size bed, fit for a king. We don’t give him the scraps from our table but the best we have to offer. We can also welcome him by turning down the noise in our lives, turning ourselves outwards towards others, paying attention to the needs of others, giving to the Church and to charity, performing acts of love, kindness, and mercy for others.
To welcome Jesus into your heart this Christmas, try this: imagine Jesus as a little baby, who wants to climb up into your lap and be held by you, and rest his head on you. Just let him sit there for a while with you. If you do this, you probably won’t want to let him go.