No Room at the Inn: Celebrating in the Stable

The true joy of Christmas has never been found in the world. It is found in the rustic simplicity and holy poverty of the stable.

Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale (1872-1945), “The Nativity”
Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale (1872-1945), “The Nativity” (photo: Public Domain)

Much has been written this year, indeed much is written every year, about the “war on Christmas.” A trip to the local mall will show that the commercial stores are not only removing Christ from Christmas and forgetting the reason for the season but are also removing every hint of holiness from the holidays, conveniently forgetting that holidays means holy-days and that Christmas means Christ-Mass, or, for that matter, that Santa means Saint.

With every year that passes the piped music at shopping malls is less about Jesus, Mary and Joseph and more about winter wonderlands, Frosty the snowman, Rudolf the red-nosed reindeer and the fact that it’s cold outside. And of course the “silver bells” do not call us to church but to the temples of Mammon, from which “shoppers rush home with their treasures.”

It is indeed cold outside, cold and dark, and there’s no room for the Holy Family at the mall as there was no room for them at the Inn.

Lest it be said that these plaintive musings make me a modern-day Scrooge who is failing to get into the full spirit of the season, I should perhaps confess that I know all the words to Winter Wonderland and Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer, the latter of which was a great favorite of my late and greatly missed mother who would sing it every Christmas, her own nose a little red from the wine imbibed in merriment. I sing along quite happily and contentedly to the words of Silver Bells and have no objection to shoppers rushing home with their treasures. Indeed, I will soon be rushing home with mine. In a day or so, I will take my six-year-old daughter for our traditional annual visit to the mall.

No, I don’t believe that I can be accused of Scrooge-like tendencies. We bought our tree last week, a sturdy nine foot specimen, though we won’t decorate it until Christmas Eve. We have a wreath on our door, which we’ll decorate on the night before Christmas with winterberries from the bushes in our garden. We’ve taken our children to see a charming stage production of A Charlie Brown Christmas, performed by children, which followed the script and pattern of the animated version with iconographic precision. I am not ashamed to say that the Christian twist at the end of the tale, in which the children finally discover the true spirit of Christmas, brought a tear of joy to my wizened eyes. We’ve also taken the children to see a performance of Handel’s Messiah by our local small-town and homegrown orchestra and choir. It was not the greatest performance of this musical masterpiece that I’d ever heard or seen but, as with all the best things in life, it was worth doing badly. I thank God that our little town has its own theatre, its own orchestra, and its own choir and I hope and pray that each will continue to do things as well as their limited resources allow, even if it’s not to the standard of their richly endowed counterparts in the cities.

My six-year-old daughter has a host of Advent calendars, revealing daily scripture verses or chocolates, or both, and every day the six-inch figures of Mary and Joseph inch ever closer to the Crib that awaits them beside the Christmas tree. No, I don’t believe that I can justifiably be accused of the heinous sin of scrooginess. I love all “the holly and the ivy” (my favorite Christmas carol) and I’m not averse to kissing my wife under the mistletoe.

The trappings of Christmas are fine but we must never lose sight of the fact that they are indeed only trappings. They are not the essence of Christmas, which can only be found in the manger, but the accidental things with which we decorate the festive celebration. If we forget that the trappings are indeed only trappings they become a trap to snare us. It is, for instance, a sobering reality that there are more people who betray Christmas with a kiss than there are who defy it with a curse. For every Scrooge and Grinch who curses Christmas, there are a thousand who flock to Bethlehem for the party but have no room in the Inn of their heart for the Mother and Baby who give the season its spirit and purpose.

The sad but joyful fact is that it has always been thus. The true joy of Christmas has never been found in the world, with its inns and market places, which perennially turns away the Mother and the gift of Life that she carries. It is found in the rustic simplicity and holy poverty of the stable. It is there that we find the ox and the lamb, creatures of the earth, keeping company with the angels, creatures of the heavens. It is there that you find the poor shepherds paying humble homage to the Lamb. It is also there that you find the Three Kings, or wise men, who, seeing their worldly possessions as mere trappings and turning their eyes from the gutter of the world to the Star in the heavens, lead their camels through the eye of a needle into the presence of God. This is the miracle of Christmas which is truly worth celebrating. These are the tidings of comfort and joy which make us all merry Gentlemen on Christmas Day.