Readings: Isaiah 9:1-6; Titus 2:11-14; Luke 2:1-14
On this wondrous Christmas night with the graphic images of the gospel still fresh in your minds, I invite you to consider the question of whether, spiritually, you are an inn or a stable. Does the approach of the Christ Child find you a closed door or an open and welcoming manger? Is your heart an inn filled, occupied, with no room, or is it an empty stable with ample space to shelter the Holy Family?
These are not idle questions if we remember that this liturgical celebration of the Birth of the Savior is not merely an annual commemoration of some historical event in the distant past. Instead, it is a reality unfolding in our midst, here and now, as Christ once again comes to dwell among us renewing and making present the ineffable grace of his incarnation whereby, in becoming one with us in our humanity, we are enabled to become one with his divinity.
Now although one may naturally think of the inn referred to in the Christmas story as representing hearts of those who do not welcome Christ, there is also a very real sense in which our hearts can also be like that unwelcoming inn with its doors tightly shut to the approach of the Christ Child. And what can contribute to the doors of our hearts being shut is, paradoxically, our desires and efforts to prepare a worthy space wherein to welcome Christ. And so with the best of intentions we can be diligently cultivating lives of virtue and striving to eradicate sinful habits under the misconception that Christ will not or cannot accept the hospitality offered by hearts that are not yet perfected.
But in our preoccupation with trying to renovate and beautify the inns of our hearts to become worthy dwellings in which to welcome the newborn King, we fail to notice his approach or hear his constant knock on the door. But if, on the other hand, we give up this futile, self-perfecting project and humbly acknowledge that we are not some noble inn capable of offering fitting hospitality to our Savior King, but instead are cold, drafty, dirty and tumbledown stables with next to nothing to offer him but humble and broken hearts, he will certainly not disdain our hospitality but joyfully enter and find rest and shelter within our hearts. And as he enters the cold, dark and drafty stables of our hearts, his radiance, warmth and light will begin to wondrously transform us from within as he slowly but surely lays the foundation of what will become so much more than the grandest inn–nothing less than the Temple of the Living God.
So on this joyous Christmas night as we strive to open our hearts to our newborn Savior, let us relinquish foolish pride and resist being ashamed or discouraged if our hearts still more closely resemble the stable than the Temple they are intended to become. For as Saint John of the Cross assures us, the Father of lights, whose hand is not shortened and who, like a ray of sunlight, pours himself out abundantly and without partiality wherever he finds space–this God does not hesitate or disdain to find his delight among the children of men. And so we can exclaim with the same holy Carmelite: O lamps of fire bright-burning with splendid brilliance, turning the deep caverns of my soul to pools of light! Once shadowed, dim, unknowing, now their strange new-found glowing warmth and radiance for my Love’s delight.