Thirty years ago, when I first became a pastor, the Director of Religious Education at my parish prepared a Christmas pageant featuring the children in kindergarten and first grade reenacting the Christmas story. She gave one child just one line to say. When Mary and Joseph knocked on the door of the inn, she was to simply open the door and say clearly, “There is no room in the inn.”
The time came for the evening play, and parents and friends all gathered to be entertained and her part came. I can still remember how clearly her voice sounded as she opened the door and said, “Oh, I think we can make room for you!” The audience broke into laughter and applause. Her parents may have been a little embarrassed, but that girl set the tone for Christmas in 1988.
While the reenactment was the Christmas scene from the Gospel according to Saint Luke with his familiar manger and innkeeper, she could well have been a budding theologian breaking open the theological version of the account from the Gospel according to Saint John. The Gospel writer summarizes the Incarnation by announcing that the Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. I am told the original Greek might well be translated to “pitched his tent among us.”
The contemplative Thomas Merton wrote in a 1966 essay about this time of no room, “Into this world, this demented inn, in which there is absolutely no room for him at all, Christ has come uninvited.” Into the dark world in which everyone is a stranger and no one is welcome, the bright light of Jesus Christ enters without invitation and changes a world of no room.
Christmas Day announces that in Christ, everyone belongs, and strangers no longer exist. The first-grader was already influenced by the grace of Christ when she was able to change the pageant’s text from no room to I think we can make room for you.
In some ways, every Christmas is about making room for the stranger. Recently I spoke to a distraught couple who told me how their teenage son had become, in their words, a stranger to them. He was despondent and distant from the family. This couple had high expectations for their son from the moment of his birth through grade school. I confirmed him not very long ago. The couple and I agreed that this Christmas he is the stranger who needs to be welcomed, and with God’s grace, they need to find room for him in their family. Sometimes the stranger is already in our midst, and the power of Christ can help us patiently and lovingly to accompany him.
A few years ago, a woman told me that at Christmas she wanted to reconcile with her sister. They had not spoken to each other for over 30 years, and frankly, she could not even remember what had led to their estrangement, but she knew that they had become strangers to one another. She prayed that the grace of Christ might break through the darkness, and she might take the first step of reconciliation and renewed filial love.
Twenty-five years ago, I was pastor of a parish that sponsored two Bosnian families. I recall someone at Christmastime telling me that at first, he did not want to participate in welcoming the family because of preconceived notions, but once he actually met the family and began to assist them, he befriended the “strangers from a foreign land.” Pope Francis has spoken constantly and insistently that we need to find healthy and creative ways to make room for and accompany those in need from other countries.
Christmas is about Jesus Christ, the uninvited guest who transforms our estrangement into a community in which he reigns. That first Christmas shepherds and magi all were magnetically attracted to the Christ child and as they grew closer to him, they ceased to be strangers to one another.
It will not be until Christ comes again in his glory that perfect communion will be possible, but even now, his grace continues to be alive in us.
During this Christmas of 2021, pause to welcome Jesus Christ into your hearts. He is the uninvited guest who enters and makes room for you, and he will transform your heart. He will allow you to make room for the stranger in your midst, whether that stranger is a family member or someone from a distant land.
Thank God for the child who, impelled by God’s grace, went off script to abandon the words, “There is no room in the inn” and instead announced, “Come in. I will make room for you.” As Jesus makes room for you, may you do for another as He does. I wish all of you a merry and blessed Christmas!