Title: “Bethlehem is Crowded.”
[__01__] In this Gospel, we read about Bethlehem: Bethlehem as a sacred place.
A sacred place for the Jewish people, a sacred place for the Christian people in the Holy Land.
And, Bethlehem is crowded.
Bethlehem is overbooked and for a particular reason. It is because of the census which required Mary and Joseph – among many others – to go to Bethlehem for the census of the population by the Roman Empire. There are many people required to go to Bethlehem. As a result, they cannot find a room, or any space. There is no room at the inn.
[__02__] It is a paradox that that Bethlehem should be crowded. Bethlehem is an out an out-of-the-way place, a back-water – up-river place - sort of like West Orange before Thomas Edison and electricity.
And, later, Nazareth is considered similarly, an out-of-the way place. No one expects a great Messiah from there. So, it is a paradox that Bethlehem should be crowded.
And, a paradox, that Jesus our Savior should be born.
[__03__] And, he is ignored by the crowds. The only people who notice him are those who were not in the crowd. The shepherds were keeping their night watch over the flocks, out in the field. They were told by the angel to go and see Jesus, to encounter him.
[__04__] So, Jesus is not even noticed by the crowd, part of the paradox that Bethlehem a sacred place.
There are places sacred to you and to me in our lives.
A home we once lived in, a college we once attended in, an apartment we once lived in.
Our Lady of Lourdes is a sacred place to many of us as we return here for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
We read in Psalm 84, “one day within your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere.”
This reminds us that our place before God –and Christ our Savior – is the best place of all.
[__05__] Bethlehem is crowded. Life is crowded.
Our relationship with Christ invites not only to encounter him privately in perfect silence – but also in the crowds – the things in life that may be out-of-sequence or otherwise difficult.
[__06__] Bethlehem is crowded. Washington D.C. is also crowded.
When I was 12, my father and mother took my 2 brothers and me to Washington D.C. to see the sites – Smithsonian, Lincoln Memorial, the Mall and monuments.
We drove to D.C. and stayed in a Holiday Inn hotel. My father was eager to report – and point out – that the WATERGATE office / apartment building was just across the street. At that age, I knew Watergate was a thing, but I did not know that Watergate was a place.
By the way, I’m not suggesting that Watergate is a sacred place, but that what is precious to me is the memory of my father teaching me about a place.
And, knowing “location” is important in every relationship. Do I know where I am – where I stand – with another person? If I just met someone, I may talk/listen in a particular way. After 20-30 years of friendship – being further down the road in the geography of affections – I may communicate differently. Place is important.
[__06__] Location is important. It was important in the Gospel, connecting Jesus to Bethlehem to the kingdom of David.
[__07__] Bethlehem is crowded. Washington D.C. is crowded. Being on a crowded sidewalk, on the 2nd day, my mother accidentally stepped off one of the curbs in our nation’s capital and twisted her ankle. A slight sprain. She was at this point, expecting a baby – our next sibling and was 6 ½ months along, 2 ½ months before the birth of our sister.
Fortunately, my mother was quite fine. The next day, however, she informed us that she would be separating herself from the city crowd and our crowd and stay behind in the hotel room.
This seemed strange to me at the time. She would not be with us. Would she be lonely? OK?
[__08__] My mother loved us, , cared for us, but was so happy, so glad to see us leave that hotel room.
But, she was not alone and nor were we truly separated from her. She was with us the whole time in a different way.
Also,– the reality of new life – of our new sibling appeared clearly to me at that time as my mother rested and stayed behind. There was going to be a new crowd, a new person, a new presence.
There would be room for one more at the inn.
[__09__] Bethlehem is crowded. Our hearts are crowded. It is Good News that Jesus arrives there to be born, to give us new life with his presence.