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Merry Christmas!

By: Fr. Lou DelFra, CSC - Director of Pastoral Life

Advent Reflections 2021 Christmas

Fr. Lou DelFra, CSCAs we walk by our manger scenes this Christmas, their familiar beauty can make us forget: that night didn’t start out so great.

That night began with Mary and Joseph searching, desperately, perhaps in a panic. Searching for a room in which to give birth to Jesus. Unfortunately, they don’t find any room in any of the inns. It’s one of the saddest lines of the whole Christmas story, Mary about to give birth, and “There was no room at the inn.”

This speaks something important to us. Jesus wants to be born among us; His mother wants to share him with us. Yet, so often, the Nativity story prophesies, they find no room.

Perhaps that’s why, in the weeks leading up to Christmas, we hear mostly, not about Jesus, or Mary, or Joseph, or the shepherds or the wise men, or any of the other figures in our Nativity sets. We hear instead, mostly, about John the Baptist . . . who is doing what? Asking us to make room in our hearts, in our lives, in our world. “Make straight in the desert, a highway for our God.”

Will Christ be born into our hearts, into the midst of our communities, this Christmas? Our most honest answer, at some level, is always just “Maybe.” If Christmas simply began with Mary, Joseph and Jesus, then the answer would be “Yes.” Because it’s just up to them. But Christmas, even Mary and Joseph’s Christmas, begins with a search, for room for Christ’s birth. It begins with John’s timeless call: “Prepare ye the way of the Lord!”

And, of course, this involves a choice on our part: to prepare the way or not, to make room or not. And so our answer to the question, “Will Jesus be born into our hearts, into our communities, this Christmas?” is, always, “Maybe.” God will certainly do God’s part, but John’s presence, and Mary and Joseph’s search for an inn, challenges us: will we do ours? “Maybe.”

And so, knowing myself, soon after saying “Maybe,” I have to say also, “Darn!” As soon as I realize that some part of Christ’s finding room within me is dependent on me, on there being room in my inn, and knowing all my own limitations and preoccupations, I must admit – “Perhaps Christ will find very little room in me.”

Instead of despairing, however, let’s remember another, beloved Christmas story from deep in our tradition. Sometime in the fourth century, in a city called Myra (in present-day Turkey), there was a man who had three daughters. The four of them lived in great poverty. It was the custom in those days, that when it came time for a daughter to be married, the family of the daughter had to provide a dowry – a monetary gift to the husband’s family – to help provide for their daughter. So it was time for this man’s three daughters to be married, but they were so poor, that he had no dowry for any of them. So, they would never be married.

Now the bishop of Myra loved this family very much. He knew the father was a proud man and wouldn’t accept an outright gift. So, in the middle of the night, when everyone was asleep, he traveled to the poor man’s house to drop the gift of money for a dowry through an open window. Unfortunately, it was a bitter cold December night. So when the Bishop, whose name was Nicholas, arrived at the poor man’s house, he found all the windows locked and shuttered.

Much like Mary and Joseph on the first Christmas night, there was no opening for the gift to be given. It’s our human story: the Gift wants in, but – for reasons in and out of our control – sometimes the Gift can find no opening.

But wait…!

Looking up, Nicholas saw that there was still one opening into the house, hard to reach for sure, but an opening nonetheless – the chimney! But how to get up there? He hadn’t thought to bring a ladder. So, Nicholas removed one of his boots, and took off one of his socks, and put the gold coins in the sock, tied the top of it, and tossed it up, into the chimney, and down it fell into the old man’s fireplace. And when the old man and his daughters awoke the next morning, there was their dowry, wrapped in a stocking, in their fireplace!

The bishop, of course, has morphed a bit over the centuries. Now we all “Hang stockings by the chimney with care / in the hopes that St. Nick soon will be there.”

Perhaps best of all, however, we realize that in the Nativity story, there really was no room at the inn, and this problem never gets resolved. And just here is some of the best news of Christmas. Just four verses after that very sad line – “There was no room at the inn” – the voice of an angel: “Today, in the town of David, in a manger, a Savior has been born to you. He is Christ, the Lord!”

So as we awake this morning to greet Christ the Lord – and realize that some parts of our hearts and souls, our communities and our world, are too cluttered to let him in … let our gaze fall upon our stockings, our chimneys, and our mangers …. and give thanks for the relentless love of God, which is so great that He gave us the Gift of His only Son.

Merry and blessed Christmas!

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