In Nativitate Domini - Making Room for Christ

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LESSON - No room at the inn

The crèche or Nativity scene is a beautiful depiction of the mystery that we celebrate today. Our Lady and St. Joseph, with the shepherds and the animals adorning the newborn Christ in the manger. However, it is necessarily a static image, frozen in time at a moment, it is there for our reverence and adoration, but it does not give us the full picture.
In the first century, the trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem was about 140 kilometres. That’s nothing for us today, a mere two-hour car ride, but for Our Lady and St. Joseph, it was a trip of several days, perhaps as much as a week. A week of wearying travel, with the potential threats of wild animals, bandits, and thieves on the road.
When they arrived in Bethlehem at long last, no doubt fatigued by their journey, they went door to door looking for lodging, a place to rest, and for Our Lady to give birth. They, no doubt, continued their search for some time, begging for the shelter of some poor lodging where the King of Glory might be born, but they found every door shut to them and every convenience refused.
Finally, the Blessed Virgin and St. Joseph were obliged to turn to a poor shelter for cattle, exposed to the bitter cold of winter, as Our Lady grieved over the sad blindness of her people who gave no welcome to the Son of God, so long expected and so long desired.
When Our Lord arrived in this world, He was an outcast with nowhere to lay His sacred head but a manger filled with straw.
This Christmas, Our Blessed Lord will not be born in a manger, but He desires, rather, to be born into our hearts by His grace in order to sanctify them and make them holy. What welcome have we prepared for Him? Will He arrive to the warmth and welcome of a heart aflame with love for Him, or will He arrive to a heart cold with sin and love for the world, where He will find no place to lay His head?

EXPLANATION - Otto the Great meets a holy hermit

Otto the Great, Emperor of Germany, had gone to Rome to visit the tombs of the holy Apostles there. On his way home, he passed through the land of Albania. The people who were along with him told him that there lived at a little distance a hermit, whose name was Nile, who was renowned throughout the whole country for his holy life. Otto thought that he would like to see him, so he left the highway and went to the place where the hermit dwelt.
When he had spoken to him for some time, the Emperor rose up to go on his way; but before leaving, he said to the holy hermit, “My Father, ask of me whatever you like, just as if you were my own son, and I will give it to you with the greatest joy.”
St. Nile put his hand on the Emperor’s breast and said, in a solemn voice, “I ask of you, O Emperor, only one thing, and that is that you will take care of your soul. Oh yes, I ask you, in the Name of God, to take care of your soul; for although you are an Emperor, you must one day die like other men and will have to give an account to God of everything you have done; and what will it avail you then if you have lost your soul?”
When the Emperor heard these words, he began to weep, and, kneeling down at the Saint’s feet, he took the royal crown off his head and answered, “O Holy Father, I will do what you ask me; but pray to God for me, and give me now your blessing.”
When he received the blessing of the Saint, he rose up and, still weeping and sobbing, went away along with those who had accompanied him.
Otto was then only about twenty years old. He had come to that time of life which is full of the greatest dangers. But he always kept in mind the solemn words of the Saint, and as soon as any temptation came to trouble him, he remembered his promise that he would, all his lifetime, take most precious care of his soul.
So he led a life of great piety. His prayers were long and fervent, and he gave great alms to the poor. People used to say he was more like an angel in Heaven than a man upon earth. Thus he passed his life, and when the end came, he died the death of the Saints, and he is now in Heaven, happy with God because he followed the advice of St. Nile and took most attentive care of his soul.
As Christ comes to seek a place to dwell in our hearts this Christmas, have we, like the Holy Emperor, endeavoured to take care of our souls so that they may be a welcome place for Our Blessed Lord?

IMPLICATION - Welcoming Christ in our souls

If we want to welcome Christ into our souls in a truly fitting way this Christmas, there are three things we can do to take care of our souls.
First is prayer. That may seem fairly obvious, but so often, when our schedule changes, when we become busier than normal, the first thing to go is prayer. Christmas is a wonderful time to socialize with family and friends; to spend time enjoying each other’s company, especially those whom we do not get to see on a regular basis. But travelling to visit relatives or organizing parties and dinners takes time, time that we should not be taking away from our time with Christ.
The second way we can take care of our souls this Christmas is to look to the example of Our Lady. Our Blessed Mother was, no doubt, grieved at the cold welcome that greeted the long-awaited Messiah in Bethlehem. As the Gospel for Christmas Day reminds us, “He came unto his own: and his own received him not.” How many hearts and souls are closed to Christ? How many have shut themselves off from God’s grace? How many have chosen to embrace the prince of this world instead of making a welcome place for the King of Kings? Remembering to pray and make reparation for sinners this Christmas will certainly help to make Christ more welcome.
Finally, the third way we can make a warm reception for Our Lord this Christmas is to imitate His example. Our Blessed Lord chose to be born in a humble manger to show us that this world, with its comforts, is not our true home. Christmas is a time when to enjoy feasts of rich food and well-aged wines, to paraphrase the Prophet Isaiah, but indulgence can quickly become overindulgence if we are not careful, and it would be truly a shame to ruin the good work we have done in Advent to prepare ourselves, by overdoing it at Christmas.
More than 2000 years ago, Our Saviour was born in poverty, in the cold, in a manger because there was no room for Him in people’s hearts and people’s homes. Today, Our Lord desires to be born in our hearts and souls through His grace. What welcome will He find when He arrives?
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