By the Most Reverend Fred Hiltz
In the last few days I have made room in my study for the Christmas crèche. Making room simply means clearing the top of an old dresser cabinet. The crèche itself is a wooden stable, someone else’s throwaway piece from some twenty years ago when we were living in Halifax. The cattle and sheep are already nestled in the hay. A shepherd boy stands at the entrance and an angels hovers in the rafters. A stable lamp is lit in anticipation of the arrival of Mary and Joseph and The Child. I delight in this annual ritual of making room for the crèche.
In the next few days Lynne and I will be making room for our Christmas tree which we always place in front of the living room window. We have to move a desk out of the house and in to the garage. We still put up a live tree and will as long as we are able. We love decorating the tree- actually I do most of it and Lynne re-arranges the ornaments, candy canes, birds and angels according to where she thinks they look best! The sweet scent of the tree fills our home for the Twelve Days of Christmas and then some!
I know that within the next few days you will be busy making room for crèche in the lobby of the Convent and putting up your tree in the Community Room, and I hope it brings you much joy for “Love, the Lord, is on the way!” (91 in Common Praise)
“Making room” is the image Jane Williams uses in her commentary on The Readings for this Fourth Sunday of Advent. (Lectionary Reflections, Years ABC).
Matthew’s account of the Conception and Naming of The Holy Child is recorded not from the perspective of an archangel showing up in a home in Nazareth and announcing to Mary that she had found such favor with God as to be become The Mother of God, but from the perspective of angel appearing in a dream to Joseph.
Betrothed to Mary he has come to know that she is with child and not his. Bewildered and unsure what to do about the disgrace she would endure he hears and angel assure him that the Child conceived in her is of The Holy Spirit. And he remembers an ancient text about a young woman conceiving and bearing a son whose name would be Emmanuel meaning “God with us”. “Fear not”, the angel says. “Marry your beloved and name the child she bears Jesus.”
Here is Joseph’s moment of Annunciation, his call as Jane Williams puts “to be there for others, to forget himself and his needs and desires, and to make room for God’s action in the woman and child.” And “make room” he does.
In a manger he would watch over Mary and The Child. He would receive shepherds curious to see the Child of whom an angel had spoken and a heavenly host had sung in the night sky over fields near Bethlehem. As word spread about the birth of the Child Joseph no doubt received more visitors too…all anxious to see the Child of whom Dietrich Bonhoeffer would write centuries later, “God is in the manger.”
In a dream Joseph would be told to flee the wrath of Herod and to seek refuge for Mary and The Child in Egypt, and he does. In another dream he is told it is safe to return and he does.
In a temple court with Mary’s consent Joseph would trust Blessed Simeon and Anna to cradle the Child in their arms as they sang songs declaring him to the Glory of Israel and a Light to The Nations.
In a simple home in Nazareth with a carpenter shop nearby Joseph would do his part in parenting The Child, and with Mary he would watch the Child grow in stature, become strong, be filled with wisdom with the favor of God upon him.
Today’s Gospel Reading invites us ponder not only Mary’s “yes” to be the servant of The Lord but also Joseph’s “yes” to care for her and the Child she bore.
The Church’s devotion to Mary on this Sunday before Christmas calls to mind how as someone once put it “she fulfilled her calling with every fibre of her being” – body, heart and soul. We think too of how Joseph fulfilled his calling “with every fibre of his being”. They both give themselves to God’s action in “lifting the hopes of the earth.” ( Paul Gibson, 269 in Common Praise) through the birth of Jesus.
This image of “making room” for God’s action through Mother and Child Jane also applies to St Paul. He is called as she puts it “ to protect The Word, the Word of The Gospel and to make room for it in the world.”
This image of “making room” is the the story of the saints, ancient and modern. It’s the story of holy women and men of every age, each in their own way embracing and embodying God’s action in and through Christ, each becoming vessels through whom the Gospel would be spoken, and lived with joy and generosity.
This image of “making room” for God’s action in and through Christ is especially the story of those called to Religious Life, to a life of “lifting the hopes of the earth” through a daily round of prayer. This image is beautifully reflected in the Rule of Life of this Community. “We are committed” the Rule reads” to life long conversion and growth in union with God through the life of prayer and the undivided service of Jesus Christ. In him we are both called and sent to be open and responsive to the needs of The Church and the world.”
This image of “making room” is captured by numerous hymn writers, none perhaps so wonderfully as Isaac Watts in his much loved carol,
“Joy to the world! The Lord is come:
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare him room,
And heaven and nature sing.” (154 in Common Praise)
So dear friends as we make room to set up the crèche and put up the tree, to trim the hearth and set the table, let us remember Mother Mary and Blessed Joseph and an innkeeper too, and all who have made room for all that God was birthing in Christ….and let us be glad to “make room” in our lives as individuals and as a community for what God may be wanting to birth through us so “the hopes of the earth may be lifted.” Amen.