No doubt. The decorations are down. Ornaments carefully packed. Boxes stored until December. Memories of Christmas 2017 are nestled in the heart.
As we have once again focused on the real meaning of Christmas, the centerpiece of our reflection is the Nativity scene: Joseph, Mary, Jesus, the shepherds, the angels, the Magi, the sheep, the camels. My guess is that, like myself, you too have a favorite depiction of what happened in the little town of Bethlehem. Maybe on a card or a painting or a family heirloom.
My favorite creche scene is one that I purchased from a little gift store, the Saxon Swan, in the little coastal village of Lewes in Delaware.
Several things about this Nativity set make it unique. All the figures are made of wax. They are molded in non-traditional stances. Mary is resting on a bale of hay holding the baby Jesus close to her heart. Joseph is bending over them, in gentle care of his dear wife and the newborn. One of the shepherds is depicted as particularly perplexed, not sure what to make of all that is happening.
But what I appreciate the most about this particular scene is the inclusion of two figures not typically a part of the traditional scene. The innkeeper and his wife! A married couple who, just a few hours before the birth of Jesus, more than likely told Joseph and Mary that there was no room for them in the inn.
Guilt, shame, regret
This Christmas season I did a lot of thinking about this couple. I thought about how much they are really like you and me. Unlike Mary and Joseph; unlike the shepherds and their sheep; unlike the Magi and their three gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. What the innkeeper and his wife brought to the baby Jesus was something hardly pretty. They brought their guilt, their shame, their regret that they hadn’t tried to provide some space for Mary and Joseph in their time of desperate need.
In a certain sense, as they came to visit the newborn Christ Child in the crib, they were already anticipating his cross on Calvary. Because that is where all of us bring our guilt, shame and regret. Isn’t that what marks the one lasting word of Christmas?
Jesus was not born into an ideal environment. In truth, he was born into a world like ours and he was born like us — in all things but sin. It was because of our sin that he was born in Bethlehem. He was born to climb the tree of the cross on Calvary.
Find that peace
As you and I pack away our Christmas decorations and our special memories of the Christmas just passed, think about the innkeeper and his wife. Think about what they brought to give Jesus — the messiness of their lives. And think about what they left behind them: their guilt, their shame, their regret — in a word, their sin. And what they left with was the peace that Jesus comes to give us all: a peace that the world can neither give nor ever take away.
Only Jesus can give that kind of peace.
Like the innkeeper and his wife, we must return to the Christ Child with renewed hearts. If Christmas is really to remain with us, then we need to continue to come back to the crib of Bethlehem so that we can really be saved by the cross of Calvary.
And that, my friends, is one lasting word about Christmas.