Most Rev. Joseph C. Bambera, D.D., J.C.L.
Christmas – December 25, 2017
Welcome to Saint Peter’s Cathedral for this celebration of the birth of Jesus. Welcome to our faithful parishioners and friends who are with us every week. Welcome to the friends of our Cathedral parish and those of you are visiting with your families and loved ones. And welcome to those of you from other religious and faith traditions. You honor us with your presence and we hope you feel at home.
Not long after the celebration of Christmas last year, I met a couple whom I’ve known for many years. We talked about their family and how they celebrated Christmas. Then they eagerly shared with me a story about their five-year-old grandson, Patrick. Patrick was a pre-school student at the time and was selected to play the innkeeper in the school’s annual Christmas pageant. He practiced repeatedly the lines that he was to proclaim to Mary and Joseph that would, in turn, send them to the stable in Bethlehem where their son, Jesus, would be born. As the day of the pageant approached, little Patrick was so excited and, of course, like any of us, his parents and grandparents were anxious to see that he’d fulfill this pivotal role in the Christmas story appropriately.
The time for the pageant arrived. The curtain in the school auditorium opened. Mary and Joseph entered the little village of Bethlehem and knocked on the door of the inn. On cue, little Patrick opened the door and boldly asserted to the tired travelers, “There’s no room in the inn.” … Then, like any budding actor, Patrick decided to ad-lib in the best way he could as he just as boldly assured Mary and Joseph, “But you can stay at my house if you want!”
In the cherished gospel passage just proclaimed, Saint Luke sets the stage for the events that unfolded at the birth of Jesus. We know the story well. We treasure the image of the Christ child lying in a manger surrounded by animals and visited by shepherds and kings. But have any of us ever wondered why Jesus was born there and not in the place reserved for travelers journeying to Bethlehem?
As little Patrick asserted, Saint Luke tells us quite clearly that there was “no room in the inn.” Presumably, the place where travelers lodged was filled. Yet, it’s not inconceivable to think that while there may have been some space available, the innkeeper just didn’t want to engage this young couple – perhaps most obviously because Mary was about to give birth to her child.
We will never know the circumstances surrounding Mary and Joseph’s inability to find safe lodging in Bethlehem. All we know is that an innkeeper in Bethlehem two thousand years ago, for some reason, missed the opportunity to encounter the living God! What also matters is that for all that we believe and profess as people of faith, sometimes, like the innkeeper, we too miss opportunities to encounter God, don’t we? We miss opportunities to welcome Jesus into our homes and hearts like little Patrick was so willing and eager to do.
Years ago, I came upon these words from an anonymous author. Perhaps you’ve heard them before: “He who desires to see the living God face to face should seek him not in the empty firmament of his mind but in human love.” How very well these words capture the heart of the Christmas miracle – God with us!
What truly lies at the heart of this great celebration of Christmas is that, by embracing our broken humanity in the birth of his son, Jesus, God forever filled our world and our lives with his presence, his grace and his love. … Yet, sadly, the best of us are not always eager to embrace God’s plan for our salvation. Instead, we relate to God on our own terms. We assert all too quickly that there is “no room in the inn” of our lives for those who are different than what we expect them to be – those who are more broken than how we see ourselves to be – or those whose presence is simply less convenient than we would want them to be.
As a result, conflict and division so often prevail in our world despite the fact that Bethlehem gave birth to the Prince of Peace. Nations continue to war one with another. Terrorism and the consequences of hatred are rampant in all corners of the globe and even into our own cherished land. Self-centeredness and pride tear apart relationships with those we love. The treasured gift of life is increasingly disregarded, in the unborn, the poor, disabled and elderly. And immigrants, refugees and those merely seeking a better life are so often forced to the margins of society by discrimination, bigotry and hatred – evils that simply will not die.
Yet, in the midst of a world that seems to have gone awry due to a lack of respect for lives that are made in the very image of the Christ whose birth we celebrate, we have reason to hope. In his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis reminds us of where that hope is to be found, “We are called to find Christ in the poor, to lend our voice to their causes, but also to be their friends, to listen to them, to speak for them and to embrace the mysterious wisdom which God wishes to share with us through them.”
And who are the “poor” whom Pope Francis references? … They are all of us. We are all poor in one way or another, aren’t we? … Some of us are poor because of a lack of resources. Many of us are poor due to a lack of welcome, due to unfair judgment by others, and due to loneliness that comes from a lack of love and forgiveness. On our own, we will never be able to provide ourselves with the meaning, purpose and peace that each of us so desperately seeks in life. When we are humble enough, however, to open our hearts to the presence of God, to admit our need for a Savior and to, in turn, follow the pattern of Jesus’ life in service of our sisters and brothers, we discover just how rich we are and how blessed each of us truly is.
The Catholic theologian and mystic, Thomas Merton, shared these thoughts on the Christmas story. “Into this world – this demented inn – in which there is absolutely no room for Him at all, Christ has come uninvited. But because He cannot be at home in it, because He is out of place in it, and yet He must be in it, His place is with those others for whom there is no room.”
My brothers and sisters, thank God that so many of you recognize every day the presence of Jesus living among those for whom there is no room in our world. In your concern for the poor; in the care that you provide for the unborn, the sick and the dying; in your efforts to work for reconciliation and peace in your neighborhoods and even in your own families; in your support of victims of natural disasters; and in your desire to gather in prayer as we do at this sacred hour, you serve the poorest among us and reverence the presence of God who knocks on the door of your hearts looking for a place to be born. In so doing, you give birth to Jesus every day and you engage the real work of Christmas!
May this celebration of the birth of Jesus be a moment of joy for you and your families. And may the embrace of its true message bring lasting peace to you and to all to whom you give room in your lives. Merry Christmas!