Anticipation is everything.
So it is in our household at Christmas. During the days of Advent, our nativity crèche becomes the focal point in our preparation for Jesus’ arrival on earth. Our Joseph and Mary figures start their travels at the farthest point in our house, each day moving closer to the crèche.
As Joseph and Mary travel on, amidst their own anticipation and preparation for the Baby’s arrival, we prepare the nativity and ourselves. Each day an animal is added, or a bit of straw, a star hanging high above or the manger waiting empty. We read a verse of scripture prophecy, pondering God’s people and their long anticipation of the arrival of the Messiah.
During December, we contemplate what it must have been like to travel for long hours over hard roads to arrive in a dirty little town crammed with too many people, and no rooms left. Joseph and Mary must have felt a growing sense of panic that there would be no safe and clean place to rest and possibly deliver this Child.
During the last week of Advent observance, our Joseph and Mary stop at each of our bedroom doors as if to say “is there room for us here?” The answer, sadly, is no each time.
There are so many ways we continue to refuse access to them. We shut the doors in the faces of those weary travelers, forcing them to look elsewhere to stay. We say "no room" dozens of times every day, not realizing who and what we are shutting out.
There is no room in our overly busy lives this time of year--from the moment we rise through the frenetic pace of work and social activities,--there is no room for the solitude of quiet prayer and reflection, and for shared gratitude and grace.
There is no room in our schools, where all mention of religious practices outside of academic study is unwelcome and eagerly litigated.
There is no room in our city squares or buildings, where nativity scenes are banished and replaced with winter festival scenes of snowflakes and snowmen.
There is no room in our homes as the TV and computer become the altars of worship and occupy more of our time than anything else.
There is no room in our hearts and minds as we crave “things” more than the freely offered gift of life.
With the offer of an animals' dwelling, there was sanctuary for the weary and burdened. It remains so to this day, unexpected and remarkable in how unremarkable it was.
Joseph and Mary sadly remain outside the back door of our lives, in a place inhospitable, cold and dank. Few of us would invite our special company into the barn first and foremost. Yet these travelers did not seek an invitation to come in the front door, with fancy meals and feather beds and fresh flowers on the cupboard. It is the dark and manure strewn parts of our lives where we need them most. That is where He was born, and that is where He remains, amid the humblest part of our being, the part we do not want to show off, and indeed, most often want to hide.
On Christmas Eve, Joseph and Mary arrive, welcomed, to the Nativity.
On Christmas morning, He arrives. Finally.
And there is plenty of room in the empty manger of our hearts.
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