A Catholic Monthly Magazine

The Welcoming Heart of Christmas

by Maria Kennedy

As a child, it was exciting to visit my grandparent’s house. I’d run down the path along the side of the house - either I was too excited to walk or I was racing my brothers and sisters to get there first. Somehow I always managed to avoid tripping up on the raised edges of the path. The door was tricky because you had to push it hard to get it to open. But the door was never locked, even at night, and I knew I didn’t have to knock but could barge right in. The door led straight into the kitchen, a dark room during the day due to the window facing the wooden wall of the neighbour’s house. But that never bothered me. If my grandparents weren’t there, I usually found them on the front porch and I knew they would be pleased to see me as I was to see them.

It didn’t end there. A visit to my grandparents’ house always involved food and food appropriate choices for a child -- chocolate biscuits, orange cordial and cake with sticky icing you could lift off with your fingers. Yes, the welcome was warm, generous and ongoing. And even now if I pass by the house where they once lived, even though the house looks in a sorry, uncared-for state, the memories still endure and nothing dims their warmth. I still imagine it as it was, and can still walk through that house and tell you where everything should be.

In a similar way, we try to imagine what that first Christmas was like when we welcome the baby Jesus into our midst. I delight in the manger scene of Mary, Joseph, the baby Jesus, the shepherds, the three kings and animals. The baby Jesus is older and bigger-looking than I imagine a newborn to be. And instead of a sleeping baby, Jesus is awake, smiling -- and his open hands are lifted up towards me. I understand that the gestures of the nativity baby Jesus show us his inner spirit of welcome, a welcome by God, a welcome so understated and gentle, that we need not fear, but rather we should approach like excited grandchildren who cannot wait to meet him. In the nativity scene there are no doors keeping us away. There are no formal approaches required that worldly kings and queens demand. No, like children, we are welcome to barge right in and make ourselves known, and, with the taken-for-granted confidence of children, when they know they are very much loved and have every right to be there.

Even darkness is subdued at Bethlehem. Jesus, the light of the world, is here. The star of Bethlehem points downwards like a neon sign. Look and see! Like being in my grandparents’ dark kitchen, I had no fear, because I knew my grandparents loved me. I did not see shadow in their kitchen, only light and warm expectation. Love dispels darkness. Jesus still dispels the darkness
of our troubles and fears. Together with the intercessions of Mary and Joseph, our prayers are made welcome and answered with graces to give us strength and the Christmas consolations of hope, joy and peace.

As a child, I learnt that following a welcome of visitors into the house, food and drink is served. In the New Testament we read about the visits of the shepherds and the three kings but we do not hear about how the food turned up. Maybe the three kings tapped on the Innkeeper’s door and ordered takeaways! Maybe Joseph offered them wine as was the custom of the day. As we celebrate Christmas, food is still a big part of the day. Family and friends are gathered together. Those less fortunate are cared for. While it is true that not every tear is wiped away at Christmas, through the efforts of many kind people, the lonely are gathered and fed, children are given gifts and a hope for all of humankind to live in peace, and harmony rises up within us. Our chatter is probably not that different from when the shepherds gathered around the fire with Joseph and Mary, and the baby Jesus, and they told stories of what they had seen in the night sky, the angels of Heaven singing Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace for those he favours (Luke 2:14).

To be welcoming is a wonderful gift of the Christian heart. I was lucky to receive this gift from my grandparents. At Christmas, welcoming the baby Jesus reminds us that in God we love and trust, and in welcoming those around us we bless others so that they too may share in the generous love of God.

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