By Bishop Gerald Barnes
“There was no room for them in the inn.”
The Gospel of Luke famously tells us that when Mary and Joseph sought a place for the birth of Jesus, their preferred location was not available.
While it does not say so explicitly, the Gospel account implies that the Savior would be born in the most modest of settings—in a manger among farm animals—at least partly because of indifference or even cold-heartedness on the part of those in Bethlehem who might have accommodated the Blessed Mother with a clean, private room.
We are taught that this wrinkle in the story signifies the humility and vulnerability of the Lord, and that God exists everywhere and especially in the most unlikely and overlooked places. Yes, but it may also be offering us a cautionary tale about shutting God out of our own hearts and lives. This story is often recounted during Christmas—the “Season of Giving.”
At Christmas, we give each other gifts, we gather in celebration to exchange blessings and good tidings. It is a time of warmth and love that is befitting of the great hope and joy felt when God’s Son came to be among us—Emmanuel.
I offer to you that Christmas is a time for us to give in another way; to give our hearts, our prayers and our solidarity to those who need it most. All around us, we see so many who are suffering the pain of poverty, violence, illness, discrimination and other struggles. Many of us are generous to those in need with material gifts, participating in holiday food or toy drives, community meals and other donations. Let us add to that the gift of our consciousness and our presence to those who feel their world crumbling around them.
Who in your midst is experiencing great loss, change or uncertainty?
For those around us who are suffering, Pope Francis urges us to, “draw near, touch them and say in the language that comes to each one of us in that moment—the language of the heart: ‘Do not weep’ and give them at least a touch of life.”
When we create what the Holy Father calls “a culture of encounter;” when we enter into the difficult realities of brothers and sisters who are suffering, it is not pleasant or comfortable for us. In fact, if we are truly with them, it hurts. Maybe that’s why it is easier for us to put on blinders and to become part of the “culture of indifference” decried by Pope Francis. That is not our path.
Open your heart to God and the promise of His Kingdom by tending to those who suffer. Open the door to the inn.
I offer you and your loved ones my most heartfelt prayers and blessings for a joyous Christmas Season and Happy New Year.