As I write this blog, we are currently underway preparing the still frigid sanctuary for Advent. While it was our hope to bring the heat online to celebrate this coming Sunday in the warm sanctuary - we unfortunately have to wait another Sunday to do so. This has, however, not stopped the work in preparation for the restoration of the old font in its new location (see previous blogs and bulletin announcements if you have not heard what it is Council has prepared).
I’m now standing in the very cold sanctuary door looking at the beautiful work Council has done, I cannot help but think back 2,000 years ago - when Mary and Joseph also stood in a doorway on a cold night.
The message we are sending to all people at St. Stephen’s is that they are welcome and we will always have room. Those words, however, were not the words a young pregnant woman heard as her betrothed and her were told there is no place for them.
In fact, they were told there was absolutely no place for them in the city and had to go to the outskirts of the town, where Mary would give birth to the son of God.
In each heart lies a Bethlehem,
an inn where we must ultimately answer
whether there is room or not.
Each of us are the innkeepers here - being asked if there is room in the inns of our hearts for the message and great miracle of the Christ child.
When we are Bethlehem-bound
we can no longer look the other way
conveniently not seeing stars
not hearing angel voices.
We can no longer excuse ourselves by busily
tending our sheep or our kingdom.
Mary and Joseph found themselves on the steps of the inn that cold night, not because they chose to freely travel to Bethlehem, but because the power of the empire compelled all people to go back to where they were from to be counted. Simply to be counted as cattle that would then in turn be taxed.
But are we compelled to go to Bethlehem this Advent? Are we compelled or do we go on our own free will? My answer is is a simple yes.
Yes, we go on our own free will. We could sit back and allow the tinsel and flickering lights of the Christmas trees to once again invade our world and drown out all that is holy about our anticipation of the Christ child. We could also, choose to not allow the hustle of the holiday season to distract us from these holy few moments that allow us to drift into the Bethlehem of our minds and learn what it means to be present for the birth of the son of God. We can allow ourselves to hear the same old stories with different ears - listening for the wonderful good news about the birth of the child that would change the course of human history forever.
We can choose to make room in the inn.
And yes, we are compelled to go to Bethlehem.
Do you take your faith seriously? I would guess your answer, like mine, would be yes. And in so doing we are compelled to go to Bethlehem, not by the sword, but by our own human compassion.
Jesus told us to feed the hungry.
Clothe the naked.
Welcome the foreigner.
Tend the sick.
When we see a family that is so poor that they do not have a place in a city with so much, our hearts ache. When we see people shut out in the cold, we shiver. When we see a woman about to give birth given nothing more than a place for animals, we cannot help but open our hearts. Our compassion and belief in Christ is what compels us to go to Bethlehem this year simply to be able to tell this poor peasant family that there is, in fact, room at the inn.
Then, when we are there, we can see the gold of that start in the east. We can hear the ever so hushed sound of the angel’s wings brushing in the still night. There we can find in the chaos of the world a brief few moments to be in awe of what it is God has done for us. For when we open our hearts to the holy family, we proclaim there is room in the inn - and there in the Bethlehem of our mind - we can kneel before the Christ child and truly understand the joys of Christmas.
Yours in Christ,
(excerpts taken from In Search of Our Kneeling Places by Ann Weems)