Every year I wonder – slightly annoyed – if there really was no room at all in the inn for those two travellers from Nazareth. Two people so quiet and modest and non-demanding, they wouldn’t have bothered anyone, would they?
Room isn’t about square feet or metres. Room is about attitude, your own attitude towards the other, your own way of dealing with a given situation. Room is about the willingness to make room, both literally and figuratively.
We’ve all been, more than once I’m sure, in a situation where someone enters and all of a sudden the room is completely packed. At best in a pleasant way when that someone is a lively and funny and invigorating person. More often than not however, it’s someone who carries with him a less positive vibe. Someone so full of himself that he takes far more space than an average person could possibly need. He claims this space by shoving others aside. And he isn’t even aware of it, or he is but doesn’t give a toss. Being tolerant and attentive, showing respect or understanding, making room for others simply doesn’t come natural to him.
Imagine what would have happened if Mary and Joseph had been that kind of people. Their child probably wouldn’t have been born in a stable among the shepherds and their animals. If Joseph had been some sort of macho man, he would never have taken no for an answer when that innkeeper told him there was no room. He would have rolled his muscles, flashed his VISA-goldcard and one way or another bullied his way in. Chances are they wouldn’t have made it to Bethlehem at all, if Mary had been such a person. You know, spoiled, self centered, cold hearted. ‘Travelling in my condition… in the midst of winter… on a mule? … really?’ Fortunately they weren’t like that. They were fine people, as I told you last week.
Near the town of Brezje – Slovenia stands this sculpture.* It represents the Holy Family, not with the little baby Jesus we know so well from the nativity scene, but with Jesus as the twelve year old. Exactly the way the Holy Family is usually portrayed. However, there is something odd with this sculpture, for Jesus is not literally pictured. As a matter of fact, Jesus isn’t there at all. If we would travel to Brezje ourselves, we could see and experience that this Jesus is nothing more than a hole in a piece of granite. Without being sacrilegious in any way, you could stick you hand right through it and reach for the bright winter sky so clearly shining through. By shaping the Holy Family this way, the artist makes clear how very special these three people are and what their presence can mean for us.
The shape of Jesus, the expected child, appears precisely there where Mary and Joseph do not take up space for themselves. For them being a proper family is not about them two, but about them three. And that’s how they make room for their child. The promised child that is coming in this world to live his own life and to fulfill his own mission.
Had they not been the generous, serene people they were, there wouldn’t have been that much space for Jesus to appear. And maybe, had they really been self absorbed, boastful people, there might not have been any room at all, as described above.
Fortunately Mary and Joseph weren’t like that and therefore the story of Christmas is not a plain and simple one. The story teaches us on several levels how we can become parents of the new life we are expecting, and how by our own attitude and behaviour, we can contribute to making room for the Light to enter this world. It is done by not taking up lots of space at the expense of others; by not flashing our muscles and ego’s; by not pushing forward our own interests and pushing others asid; by not taking more than we need. It’s only by becoming the best person one can be, loving, modest, open hearted and open minded, tolerant, caring and respectful, and above all by understanding our own part in the whole scheme of things and taking up the space that was meant for us, that we make room for light to appear.
*I tried my very best to find the author of this picture. It came to me as a homemade paper postcard a very long time ago. Since the picture is not on the internet it is practically impossible to find further information.