One monastic practice during Advent as Christmas draws near is to hold a “Joyous Chapter.” On the evening of December 23rd, the entire community gathers in the Chapter Hall. It is festively decorated and we begin with Compline. Then, the prioress reads the Gospel from the Christmas Mass at Night and the youngest member of the community presents a short meditation. This year, that honor fell to our postulant. The text of her reflection follows:
God planned the coming of his Only-Begotten son into the world from all eternity. He wrote it in the stars when he set them in motion. He spoke of it by the prophets during long ages. The promise was passed down through every generation preparing a people to receive him. The Blessed Virgin Mary was preserved from all stain of sin and filled with every grace. She was betrothed to a righteous man, Joseph, who would be her protector. The world was at peace.
And yet, it would appear that the God of the Universe did not remember to reserve a room at any of the inns at Bethlehem for Mary and Joseph coming all the way from Nazareth in Galilee for the census and this during her third trimester, the due date fast approaching! This seems to be quite an oversight! Or could it be that the inns at Bethlehem are so highly in demand at Christmas, that God himself could not get a room in which the Christ child could be born!
But of course God’s ways are not our ways and what appears foolish on his part proves wiser than our limited wisdom. Imagine for a moment if there had been a place, a cozy little room for the Holy Family. And the angels appear to the shepherds singing glory to God and announcing, today a Savior is born who is Messiah and Lord. You will find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes staying at the Comfort Inn, room 307. I’m not sure those shepherds would have even left their fields. But perhaps encouraged by the glorious vision they made their way to hotel, to the specified room, upstairs overlooking the pool. How out of place and self-conscious they feel as they walk the well-kept corridors! Still, they have been sent by angels, so they knock meekly at the door numbered 307. A pause, then it opens a crack, it is clear the chain is on. A surprised but kindly Joseph peers out and ask what he can do for them. Perhaps, they glimpse Mary in bed holding the baby and suddenly they feel embarrassed. They are ashamed of their lambs bleating noisily and making a mess. How do they dare ask to intrude upon this intimate domestic scene? No it won’t do; they mumble an apology and flee back to their fields in discouragement.
But now recall the scene as it really was, as it was always meant to be. The child lies in a manger. I must see this! How can it be that the promised Messiah could be so poor, like me? The little family can see the shepherds approach and the shepherds take courage upon seeing such simple people, all the while their wonder at the words of the angel increases. Joseph rises to meet them. The smell of donkey and oxen that clings to him mingles with the odor of the sheep, and the shepherds excitedly confide to him the vision of the night. He precedes them into the stable open to the world where Mary sits beside Jesus asleep in the manger. A piece or two of hay cling to her sleeve. How could they possibly be ashamed of the grass clinging to their own clothing? Rather, it becomes a source of connection. Everyone is poorly clad and everyone is happy. The lambs nuzzle up to the one who is both the true Lamb of God and the Good Shepherd. The shepherds are filled with awe and belief. They go out rejoicing and boldly announcing the good news that God is truly with us.
We too are invited to the stable to see the Newborn King. He has come in our poverty and littleness so that we may approach without fear or shame and seeing him so like ourselves, we will let him make us like himself. So come, let us go with the angels and shepherds to the stable of Bethlehem singing glory to God in the highest!