Be Not Afraid

Several years ago Maureen and I were invited to attend my cousin Jennifer’s wedding just outside of Baltimore, Maryland. Both Maureen and I looked forward to this occasion; so on the day the invitation arrived we lost no time in making our reservation where the bride and groom had reserved a block of rooms. Now because I was participating in the wedding, we also needed to book an extra night prior to the wedding, which we did. 
On the day of our arrival, several unexpected events took place. This caused Maureen and I to get a late start in our journey to the hotel. Instead of arriving around 7 p.m. as planned, we actually arrived about 9:30 that night. Not too late, or so I thought until I walked up to the reception desk only to be informed that the hotel was over booked for the night and there were no rooms available for Maureen and me to stay.  
I don’t know how many of you are familiar with Reisterstown, Maryland where my cousin’s wedding took place, needless to say, there are not many hotels in the area. Sixteen years ago, there were exactly two hotels and both were fully booked that night. So we were sent thirty miles back from where we had come from to stay in a sister hotel until our room became available the following morning. 
This is the only time I have ever, in anyway come close to experiencing what Mary and Joseph experienced the night they arrived in Bethlehem. I can only imagine how tired they must have felt the night they arrived. Although Bethlehem is not that far from where they lived. Traveling the rough terrain of Palestine by foot or by donkey was difficult at best. The distance they traveled by car today would take minutes an hour at the most, but for them it took the better part of the day if not days. 
Back then of course, there were no phones, no email, and no way to call ahead to reserve a room. So like the rest of those who entered Bethlehem for the census, finding a room would be a last minute ordeal. And. as anyone, who has tried to find a room near a large university for parents weekend knows, you need to book early and be prepared to pay dearly for the convenience. 
Tonight’s story, however, takes place in first century Palestine; Inns were few and far between. Providing food and shelter for the traveler was part of the core values of the time. So as I read tonight’s Gospel I realized there is a message in the often over looked statement, “for there was no room for them at the inn.’
There was no room for this couple about to give birth to their first child. There was no compassion for this couple, forced by their government to leave their home at the most inconvenient time in order to be registered so they could be taxed. There was no room for the woman who was about to give birth to the divine incarnation. 
So I have to ask, what was this really about, there being no room at the inn. I can only imagine how overwhelmed Bethlehem must have been as it became inundated with people from all over the country converging on this little town because of issues of lineage. There must have been all kinds of people entering the town. Rich and poor, now here may be a reason why there was no room for them. Perhaps, the innkeeper felt he could get a better price from someone else. Joseph was just a lowly carpenter from Nazareth, surely he couldn’t pay much. Perhaps if he saved the room someone from the priestly class of Jerusalem would appear at his door willing to pay a premium. Or perhaps he was just afraid, afraid of the risk involved in taking in a unknown couple, who appeared poor, disheveled and likely to steal from him. Who could blame him for not wanting to make room for them in his inn?
I wonder. . .if the innkeeper knew who the child Mary was carrying was, if he would have willingly made room for them. This is the problem with God, as Abraham found out a millennia earlier, we are often called to entertain angels unaware. Often it is fear, fear of the unknown, fear of the possible which often prevents us from welcoming God into our homes. 
Lord knows we have a lot to fear in today’s world. Since 9/11 the world has become the scariest of places. In Native American Religion the elders speak of the Windigo. The Windigo is a dark figure that lurks in the shadows waiting to strike and to overcome its victim with fear. In recent years, it feels as if the Windigo has cloaked this nation in darkness. We seem to live in a constant state of fear. Why shouldn’t we be, as war continues throughout the Middle East, and terrorism continues to invade our shores ? We carry guns by the scores to protect ourselves from unforeseen danger. We fear the stranger, the person who looks different from us and even the beggar on the street.
But the family we fear to show compassion for. . .the family we fail to open our hearts to because they sleep this night in their car or are fleeing the ravages of war and a barbaric regime might just be the Holy Family God is calling us to open our homes and our hearts to. But how are we to trust when every ounce of common sense tells us to do other wise? 
This is when we like Mary, Joseph and the Shepherds must trust in the words of the angel and “not be afraid,” for born this night in the City of David a child is born who is Christ the Lord.” He is the Messiah, the Anointed One. He is Immanuel, God with us. Or as John so aptly describes in the opening chapter of his Gospel, “the light which has entered the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
The child lying in the manger is the antithesis of the Windigo, it is he who overcomes the darkness of fear in our lives and illuminates the way to compassion. It is Mary’s child who dispels the darkness of despair and illuminates the path to hope. And all we have to do is to let go of our fears and to trust in this child by making room for him in our hearts, in our souls and in our lives. 
We, as the prophet Isaiah proclaims, are the people who walk in darkness and have seen a great light. . . That light is the child lying in the manger, the babe of Mary. That light is Jesus, the Christ, the Lord, the King of all, and the one who conquers all we are afraid of.
Amen

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