“And Mary brought forth her first born son and laid him in a manger
because there was no room for him in the inn” Lk. 2:7
This wonderful event took place over two thousand years ago – but have things really changed for the better since then? Have we room in our hearts for the homeless, the immigrants, the asylum seekers, the foreigners, the abandoned who are here in our midst?
Every day we see heart-rending pictures of families who are fleeing for their lives usually because of war and violence. We hear of thousands of refugees who are trying to escape from their war torn homeland and are hoping to find a place of refuge and safety in some country in Europe.
We all remember the photo of the young boy who was drowned but whose body was washed up on the sea shore. It was a photo that shocked the whole world, yet had there been a welcome anywhere for him and for his family this would never have happened. Had they come to Ireland would we have made room for them in our midst?! Would we have welcomed them with open arms?
Only last year, about three days before Christmas I was walking up one of the main streets in Galway. There was a great air of celebration and happiness and the people were thronging the streets bearing with them the presents they had just bought. Buskers were playing, children were singing carols and there were dancers and magicians. All in all there was a sense of happiness and well being. What really saddened me though was the sight of a young homeless man lying on the ground with only his sleeping bag to keep him warm, and a paper cup at his feet, into which people were throwing a few coins. I saw a small excited child, dressed in a beautiful red coat skipping up the street with a big present she had just received from Santa. Suddenly the high voice of the child was heard over all the hustle and bustle: “Mammy, why is that man lying on the ground?” Her mother tried to quieten her but the child persisted: “But mammy, why is that man lying on the ground?” The mother was embarrassed and frustrated and grabbing the child by the hand hurried away. They were almost out of sight but I could still hear the persistent question of the child: “Why, mammy, is that man lying on the street?”
I was moved by the child’s sensitive question and threw some Euros into the paper cup where it rattled with the other coins, and I made a hasty retreat, happy with myself that I had given the young man some money. But I still felt uneasy and although I saw my bus coming I returned to him and began talking to him. His story was a sad, pathetic one but one full of hope. As I prepared to go he turned to me and with tears in his eyes said: “Thanks for listening. You are the first person who has spoken kindly to me!” Maybe, for the first time he felt that “There was some room for him in the inn”.
But it is not just in Ireland that, very often, there is no room in the inn, no welcome for the stranger!
It was the Eve of the New Millennium and I was out in Brasil at the time, working on a team with the Divine Word priests. To celebrate this momentous event people from all the parishes in which they ministered, were invited to Iguape, in the State of Saõ Paulo. They came in their hundreds and the huge assembly was gathered together in a massive arena for the special celebration of the Mass. What joy, peace and happiness were there as we all put our hearts into the singing for the Liturgy.
We started to sing the Gospel Acclamation “Alleluia, the Word became flesh and lived among us” and while we were doing so, a massive globe of the world was trundled in and was pushed up the centre of the Arena. It arrived at the altar and the priest held aloft the Bible and started to read: “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He came to his own……” He paused and they opened up the globe inside of which was a small child who crawled out of it.” A gasp went round the assembled throng as the priest continued “And the world received Him not!” I’ll never forget that moment when the meaning of the Incarnation really came home to me.
Yes. The Lord is here in our midst but do I receive him in whatever guise He comes, and welcome him with joy? This Christmas could I change the text “Mary brought forth her first – born Son and laid him in a manger because there was no room in the inn” to “Mary brought forth her first –born Son and He was warmly welcomed and received with joy?”
It depends on me, on all of us, to make this a living reality and in so doing we will, without doubt have a really happy Christmas full of joy, peace and blessing.
Sr. Padraigin Mc Kenna OP