(A word for Blue Christmas)
And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed. And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) to be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.
And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn. (Luke 2:1, 3-7, King James Version)
Last week I read a story to the children at church about an old cow who kindly welcomed an array of other animals to join her in a stable, saying over and over, “There’s always room for a little one.” First an old dog seeks shelter, and then a cat, and then a mouse. Natural enemies come together and cause each other no trouble. It comes as only a small surprise when a donkey comes along, a donkey bearing a woman about to give birth, led by the man traveling with her.
There was no room for them that night, no room indoors, no room at the inn, the hostel, the Bethlehem Hilton or the Motel 6.
A woman sits in her cubicle at work, wondering how to get through December when she can only think about the last Christmas, the Christmas when her husband told her the truth and began his journey to a life without her. Living at the intersection of angry and heartsick, how will she hang ornaments on a tree with her children? How will she bake cookies and pretend that all is well?
There is no room for her sadness in the happy corridors at the office, in the tinsel-decorated workroom or the shared kitchen full of holiday goodies.
A man worries about how to provide for his family, to give them the things they have come to expect. His company is struggling; he could lay off workers, but hates to do it right before Christmas. Yet that’s what his financial advisors tell him to do, to think of himself first. Living at the intersection of fearful and desperate, how will he know the right thing to do? And how could be bring himself to hurt others in the process?
There is no room for kindness when survival is at stake, in the cool, organized, reasonable world of business.
A husband and wife sit in the hospital, waiting for news about their young daughter, who needs a transplant. They know that time will be short without it, but they struggle with knowing that a donated organ means another family’s grief, another family’s suffering. Living at the intersection of desperate and impossible, how will they live without their baby, their darling? And how can they live with hoping someone else’s child will die?
There is no room for sympathy when life and death come so close together.
A sister looks around the family table and can think only of the one who is missing, the years of chronic illness, the love poured out and the efforts taken, the unavoidable ending she cannot accept. Living at the intersection of too soon and never long enough, how can she bear the twinkling lights and the chirping carolers? How can she stand Christmas?
There is no room for grief when everyone insists on being so joyful.
Maybe the inn is not the place we want to be, anyway. Maybe we should turn to the stable instead. In the dark, where the warmth comes from the animal bodies and breath, where a young woman on her own with a man she doesn’t know very well yet, far away from her mother and anyone she would expect to be with her at such an important moment, labors. Maybe in the dark, animal warmth, we could find the space we need to sit with our sadness, our anxiety, our disappointment or our grief.
Close your eyes. Can you smell the hay, feel the breath of the animals, hear the groans of the young woman?
In this place there is room for all our sorrows.
And in this place we are not alone with them.
Soon a baby’s cry will pierce the night, a light of love will shine, a sign that God will not abandon us, especially in the darkness. In the little stable, there is room for all we bring, and there is love.
(Marc Chagall's Nativity, linked at Textweek.)