On Sunday, an adorable little girl in my Sunday School group approached me with the kind of excitement that can only be fully expressed by a four year old. Her eyes were bright and her smile was gigantic as she said to me, "Guess who's having a birthday!!" I leaned over, looked into her sparkling eyes, and asked, "Who?"
"Jesus!!" she replied enthusiastically. "It's almost Jesus' birthday!!"
At the end of Christmas day, when the floor is littered with wrapping paper, a few toys have inevitably already been broken, and everybody's so full of Christmas cookies that they can hardly move, it might occur to some people that somewhere along the way, we got off course when it comes to the meaning of Christmas. As Michael Scott said on The Office, "Happy birthday, Jesus - sorry your party's so lame."
Sometimes, it's easy to forget - with all of the tinsel, and lights, and bells, and Santa, and ornaments, and stockings, and gifts, and ridiculous songs - that Christmas started out with a tiny baby who was born in a barn, surrounded by hay and flies and cow manure because the local inn was full. Then, like now, there wasn't room for him in any of the places of honor. And now, like on the day he was born, we sometimes push him out of sight - his birthday having been overtaken by things that are a little more exciting, a bit flashier and more polished, and with a tad more pizazz than celebrating a Jewish baby being born in a feed trough.
Don't get me wrong - I decorate and exchange gifts with the best of them. But perhaps the lesson I need to remember is about making room.
The whole "making room" thing is a part of Christmas that my parents have always, always done right. Yes, they read the Christmas story, and pray, and talk about Jesus on Christmas, but they've also shown the spirit of "making room" on Christmas in a much more tangible way. For as long as I can remember, any time someone didn't have anywhere to go on Christmas, my parents would invite them to our house on Christmas day. An old grocery store coworker of mine with no family in the area, a foreign exchange student, a recently divorced uncle, a childless widow from our church. On Christmas, these people were brought into our home and treated like family. My parents would have gotten them a gift or two, and they'd be urged to take seconds and thirds at Christmas dinner. They'd join in on games with our family, and when they left, they'd be sent home with enough leftovers to last for a week.
I have to be honest when I say that I haven't always appreciated this about my parents. One particular guest - who came for five or six years in a row - didn't smell very good, and I sometimes resented sharing Christmas with people who weren't family. But it occurs to me that Mary and Joseph, a young man and his extremely pregnant wife who had been riding over long dusty roads on a donkey, probably didn't smell fantastic, either. And why should the innkeeper have made room for these two, when he could have an inn full of people he knew and liked? People who weren't going to give birth on one of his nice beds?
Commercials and Christmas cards and carols tell us that Christmas is a time for family and friends. For spending time with the people you love. But maybe that's not the point. Maybe the point is to celebrate Christmas by doing for other "outcasts" what nobody did for Jesus, Mary, and Joseph all those years ago - make room for them and welcome them in; feed them and warm them and love them; treat the people with no one to love or care for them in the same way that we'd treat the people we love the most. Maybe Christmas is our opportunity to make up for the inn with no occupancy, for the stable, for the hay-filled trough. Maybe Christmas is our chance to give Jesus a soft bed, a warm house, and a room full of loving people to herald his arrival into the world. Maybe we do this for him when we do it for others.
"I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me." Matthew 25:40
Next week (or whenever I've recovered from eating too many cookies), I'll go back to my normal random posts. In the meantime, I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas and a very happy New Year!