It's shortly before Christmas at the local school. The 3rd graders are on stage before a full audience, presenting the Christmas story of the birth of Jesus. They rehearsed for weeks, memorizing their lines and their movements on stage. For a while, the play moves along nicely.

Mary and Joseph arrive in Bethlehem, worn out by their long and difficult journey, looking for lodging for the night. It's a very cold night and Mary is pregnant and close to giving birth. They find the inn and speak to the innkeeper, pleading their case. Initially, the innkeeper responds with the lines he rehearsed so often: "All the rooms I have are filled. There is no room for you!" Then the girl playing Mary starts to cry, and that's when things on stage begin to fall apart! The innkeeper is moved by her tears, hesitates momentarily, and then shouts out loud for all to hear: "Okay, okay, you and Joseph can have my room!" The audience is startled and silent for a few moments, but then someone in the audience begins to clap, and soon the entire audience is clapping! It takes a few moments for the director to get everyone on stage back on track and on script; but there's no doubt that the innkeeper makes quite an impression on everyone by responding from his heart and not from the prepared script he had rehearsed.

I've been thinking about the innkeeper in the Gospel story. He and I and you, are so alike. In the Gospel story, the innkeeper is the "heavy." No doubt Bethlehem is a crowded town, and it is very late; but in the Gospel, the innkeeper seems to have little pity on the poor family standing in front of him. Of course, this innkeeper doesn't recognize who this family really is. And there's the rub!

Let's consider ourselves "innkeepers," because in a sense, we are! We open or close the door on people constantly. How understanding are we? People come to us. They make requests of us : perhaps not for a room, but for our time, our energies, maybe our talents. Do we ever consider that by making ourselves unavailable to them, by refusing to help or listen or spend time with them, we might be "the heavies" too, refusing to help Jesus all over again? Jesus doesn't come to us as a Jewish infant. He doesn't come in sandals and flowing white robe. As a matter of faith, he is in the habit of coming to us cleverly disguised. He might be a homeless woman, a starving child, someone's sick baby, an unemployed man, an uncle who irritates us no end, a victim of violence or abuse, a difficult co-worker, a person suffering depression, perhaps someone hurting badly from a recent love lost or from a terminal illness.

Remember what Jesus says so clearly in the Gospel: "Whatever you do for the least of my sisters and brothers, you do for me!" Perhaps we too, like that innkeeper in the school Christmas play, should throw aside the script and respond from our hearts: "Come on in. There's always room for you here!" In doing so, we invite Jesus to be born again, not in a manger but in our hearts. And that, my friends, is the true meaning of Christmas!

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