The coming of Christmas sparks joy in the lives of children and generosity in the hearts of earth’s citizens. People of good will, especially Christians, are touched by the message of God’s incarnation as a Jewish baby, though not welcomed by many cultural and religious leaders, was welcomed by common folk and outsiders. We often use the image of rejection—no room in the inn—to imply that the world doesn’t have room in its mission or busyness to welcome the Lord’s mission and purpose.
From then till now, the Catholic Church (like Jewish and Christian churches) struggles between being a place of expectation and one of invitation. Jesus’ Jewish religion and culture held up many rules and regulations for members to adhere: everything from how to cleanse dishes, bodies, and beds to what to eat and when to eat it, and how to worship. Jesus told leaders that these kinds of regulation expectations are not important to being chosen by God, even though they were important for being chosen for church membership. Some Catholics similarly believe that adherence to rules and regulations are what determines being a good member of our religion. But I think Jesus would say that it’s really not about that.
Many Catholics today, like many Jews in Jesus’ time, greet others by way of expectation, i.e., if you adhere to certain rules, you can participate in our church—if you don’t, you cannot. Some priests and church workers take it further, saying things like: you can have no more than three bridesmaids at your wedding…you cannot give a eulogy at your father’s funeral Mass but at the wake or reception…you cannot receive communion if you are in a state of sin (never mind that the church views our human condition as a perpetual state of sin). Though there needs to be expectations for Catholics, it is crucial to realize that Jesus greeted others by way of invitation, not expectation. He didn’t tell people, “If you come up to my level you can be in the club.” Rather, He went to their level. He didn’t demand that they reach up to Him; He reached down, or reached out, to them.
Whether celebrating weddings with ten wise and foolish bridesmaids, or honoring the life of those who died by recalling their contribution to the world, or inviting sinners to dine with Him, Christ’s mission was one of invitation. He found room for people who the churches might say, “There is no room here for you.” Perhaps we will let the spirit of His nativity spark some joy in our lives and generosity in our hearts as we once again embrace the message of the incarnation. In this way we might better welcome one another into our lives and our church as we welcome Jesus into our world this Christmas.