Knock-knock on the front door. The householder opens it to a surprise — a whole crowd of people awaiting them. Also a donkey, two sheep and two goats. Almost spontaneously and in unison, the crowd shouts, “Is there room at the Inn for baby Jesus?”
This is the third year we have done the 5 o’clock outdoor, live Nativity service this way — borrowing from a traditional Mexican novina, “las Posadas,” for the ambulatory opening of our worship. We follow Mary and Joseph around the neighborhood as they look for a place to stay before eventually meeting The Innkeeper back at Old First, who has no room in his hotel, but offers his outbuilding that is usually only home for farm animals. And from there the rest of the story plays out at the Creche: the baby is born; then the Shepherds, angel struck, stumble in; and finally the star-stuck Wise Ones bow before Him on bended knee. The rest, well, we are called to take it from there.
The first few years we toured the neighborhood, led by Mary, Joseph and the donkey, almost everyone whose house we approached figured out the drill and answered in effect, “Sorry, but there’s no room in the Inn!”
Well, there was that one group of people last year. They came down from a party in a 2nd floor apartment at the corner of 2nd / Race, with highball glasses in their hands, and invited us all up, almost insisting, goats first!
The good news from this year — that reckless largesse of welcome seems to be growing. Our big unruly and a bit bedraggled band of sojourners was invited in at its first stop at the Hostel on Cherry and then at every other home we visited on Cherry and Orianna Streets. Even when I chided greeters at their doors “But if you say yes, we’re all — animals too– coming in your house,” they laughed and answered back, “Sure.”
Let’s hope that on some level that playful spirit is a sign that there is that much room in all their lives for the baby Jesus. Why hope that? Because if there’s room for Him, there will be room for everybody else.
Two more observations — even bits of good news — from this year’s service:
I was a nervous about knocking for space in strangers’ homes for Jesus when I knew nothing about their religious beliefs. We live in a time of heightened sensibilities towards diversity, about how religious expressions in the public sphere can be offensive to people who don’t share the same faith. I think it is good to respect (even celebrate!) the religious differences among our neighbors. That means, among other things, recognizing how we need different words within and outside the bounds of our own faith community.
Anyway, every house we went to had a Christmas tree, even though I knew a few of the families were not Christian. My working decision ended up, “If you have a Christmas tree, it’s kosher for us to inquire if you have room for Jesus… and no matter what your answer, we can safely “carol” you a season’s greeting.
Last but not least, the 5 o’clock service is notable in that it’s the one service all year that has a congregation made up of a majority of visitors. That’s good news. I wish we were always closer to such proportions whenever we gathered! Do you wonder what we could do to make that so?
Even as I thank God for all those guests, I do worry that we may not yet have figured out how to build on their Christmas Eve worshiping with us, how to move towards greater relation with them. Why, we haven’t even figured out how capture their contact information (we’ll know for sure on Dec. 31 when we open the “birdhouse” and see how many left their names and e-addresses for a chance to win dinner at Kisso, the Japanese restaurant across the street from the church).
May I ask your help with this? At the least could you pray for the visitors who joined us on Christmas Eve? I think that in and of itself might make a difference and move us closer toward relation with them. Since it’s Christmas, when we celebrate the Christ child, perhaps you want to pray especially for the families with small children.
Hope you all had a blessed Christmas, and see you in church,