The Play had been going well. Excited children and nervous parents were engaged in the annual event. All had gone according to plan until Joseph and Mary arrived at the inn.
Joseph asked, "Have you any room in the inn?" To the surprise of the whole audience and to detriment of the heart condition of the producer, the Inn Keeper replied, "Yes, we have plenty of room, come on in!!"
It had not been in the script. The unexpected happened. It was unforgettable. The spirit of welcome overcame the little innkeeper. His compassion took over.
Christmas is a surprising mixture of the expected and the unexpected. It is certainly a story of compassion and welcome. It is about the deep compassion and generous welcome of God. In contrast to the lack of welcome by those He came to serve, indeed their very rejection of Him, the baby born in Bethlehem was a friend to the last the least and the lost. He welcomed those who came to Him.
In the midst of all the busyness and pressure of life, not least the particular pressures of this time of the year, Christ’s invitation still stands. It is an invitation and welcome to all who are stressed and stretched, the worn and the weary.
"Are you tired? Are you weary? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly." cf. Matthew 11:28-30
Ireland needs to hear again these words of warmth welcome grace and generosity. Ireland cries out for rhythms of grace in a culture of greed and increasing need. The Celtic tiger has died but the Lion of Judah, the Lamb of God still lives. The consistent radiant integrity of Jesus Christ the Saviour of the world has to be evident in the lives of His followers. He was known as the Friend of sinners and the Friend of children. God forgive us that in the lives of many that truth has been defaced and something precious has been lost.
This Christmas may we rediscover the surprises of God’s love, the depth of His compassion, and the width of His welcome. Recession may be biting, unemployment may be rising, violence may be escalating but the message of Christmas is a message of hope and a better way. The One who lay in the crib knows the pain of the Cross. He knows all about suffering. He is Emmanuel, God with us. He welcomes us. May we welcome Him! As the Christmas Carol expresses it...
"O come to my heart Lord Jesus, there is room in my heart for Thee."
Maybe the little innkeeper in the Nativity Play was nearer the very heart of Christmas than the Producer thought! A truly Happy Christmas to you and your loved ones, wherever they are this Christmas!
Bishop Ken Clarke, Bishop of Kilmore, Elphin and Ardagh
Bishop Leo O’Reilly, Bishop of Kilmore
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