As I write this I am in between Christmas Eve services. Our family service has concluded and hundreds of “children of all ages” are happily making their way to home and celebration. In less than an hour our sanctuary will fill to capacity.
If we are honest (and of course we should be) we envy the full and busy. To want and to languish is hardly sought out or admirable. A few of us even brag about such fullness by working hard and never having enough time, feigning remorse saying “Maybe we can find some time next week.” Tonight in churches throughout this land the weary worshippers will ease into their pews only to nervously wonder if they have shopped enough, cooked enough, planned enough. “Maybe there is something more I can do…just one more thing.”
We fill our time and our bellies with so much that there is not really room for much else. Please know I like the fullness of it all, especially this time of year. There is joy in the over-indulgence of celebrating and singing and eating. The kingdom of God is often compared to a feast and what better time to feast and over-indulge than Christmas, the very celebration of more.
I wonder though if we also stuff and stow and fill our lives because we fear the emptiness. That is, we fear the silence, the unknowing, the stillness.
Look at what centers us this night – a manger that at this moment is empty. I wonder about what or who was in that stable where the empty manager stood.
In some traditions the stable was a cave. The traditional site of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem is a cave, and now the Church of the Nativity lumbers over it. When you visit there you enter through a low door where you have to bow low and descend through some narrow stone steps to a spot marked by a gilded silver star. The trouble is the centuries have so layered it in architecture you can no longer tell it is a cave.
Just imagine what that cave was like for Joseph and Mary, full with child: dark, mysterious, empty.
Most of our lives we work so hard to avoid darkness and mystery and emptiness. We create for ourselves distractions that are shiny and novel giving a rather superficial sense of illumination. We create or seek neat and tidy answers to our many complexities because mystery is just too much. We engorge our time and busy ourselves to place of weariness because an empty schedule is just too frightening.
When there is no room in your life will you room in your heart that God desires to fill?
A dark place full of mystery; a manager empty and vacant where God poured in Light.
God can inhabit our empty places: our disappointments; our longings; our hopes; our failures; our joy. God can inhabit our empty places because that is who God is; in a manger in Bethlehem.
And if we make room for him in our hearts and lives, God will fill us too and we will finally rest from all our striving and know that it is enough.