“While they were in Bethlehem, the time came for Mary to have her child. She wrapped Him in swaddling clothes and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” (Luke 2, 1-14)
For all of us who have thought that the inn-keeper (who refused the Holy Family) was a cruel and thoughtless human being, it might be time to think again. In that time and in the culture of the Middle East, hospitality was (and still is) a very important matter for people. If the inn-keeper sent them to the stable, it was actually a thoughtful and considerate gesture because, with animals there, it would have been warm. Similarly, for all of us who have thought of “swaddling clothes” as rags for the poor, it is time to look deeper. In those times, such “clothes” were a way of receiving and wrapping with warmth someone who was welcome and embraced. What’s the point? The Christmas story is really a story of hospitality, of hospitable welcome, and of generous acceptance.
But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves! While we might, at first, think Christmas is about us being hospitable to the Divine Child, it might be the other way around. Christmas is about God welcoming us into the wonder of God’s new creation – which has begun with this Child. The news we share with the help of St. Luke’s Gospel is that there has been a “restart” to creation. A hospitable and loving God is welcoming those He loves – us! While we might like to think that we are welcoming the Christ Child, isn’t it at least possible that it is really the other way around?
Think about these things over the next Twelve Days: it is God’s hospitality that we enjoy day by day in this life; it is God’s hospitality that draws us to the Table which He prepares for us Sunday after Sunday; it is God’s hospitality that feeds us with Divine Food in the Eucharist and nourishes us in a unique way through His word.
How shall we respond to day and into the New Year to God’s generous hospitality? Shall we treasure every moment we have together? Shall we protect and preserve the beautiful earth which we have been given as a gift? Having been welcomed by God, shall we, too, welcome others and invite them to enjoy a share in the bounty of God’s blessings? Shall we act as the Children of the Light that we are and praise the God whose love for us is beyond our dreams? Shall we give glory to the God who calls us to a new day each day? The full answer to each of these questions will come in time, but for now, let us give thanks to the God whose gift to us, in His Son, we celebrate today. Let us pray that we will come to know how welcome we are in God’s house and in God’s presence. Then, let’s imitate God’s gracious hospitality, making this a better place and becoming a better people.