Long before Jesus preached inclusivity, Mary practiced it. Imagine being the mother of a newborn, exhausted from a trip to register for the census in Bethlehem. Then picture giving birth in a stable, which was probably not as cozy and clean as most Christmas cards depict. Mary is far away from her support system, so she can’t rely on her mother, sisters or friends for help. No casseroles, no baby blankets.
Then, according to Luke, a crowd of shepherds arrives. They must be strangers, but there is no record of Mary feeling uncomfortable with these uninvited guests. Instead, she “treasures” the memories and is filled with gratitude. Matthew’s account of the magi doesn’t mention Mary’s response, but she must have wondered: how many more strangers would crowd into their temporary housing? These surprising visitors aren’t even Jewish–and bring the strangest gifts.
Mary’s experience should give us fair warning. If we hang around with Jesus, we’d better keep our doors open. He brings along an odd assortment of friends. They may not bring frankincense or myrrh, but they arrive unexpectedly when there are only two pork chops for dinner. They come disguised as the children’s friends or the lonely neighbor who talks too long while the rolls burn. They phone at the worst possible times and they interrupt our most cherished plans. And in these, says Jesus, you’ll find me. This feast seems to celebrate James Joyce’s description of the Catholic church: “here comes everybody!”
Thanks for this, Kathy, esp the Joyce words….. Oh yes, here comes everybody….. I know we are NOT as inclusive in SPIRIT as we are in singing “All are welcome.” But it’s still the place I love to worship. Over the last few weeks in my local Catholic school (St. Kateri Tekakwitha, Schenectady, NY), I’ve chorally read with 3rd – 5th graders an adaption of X.J. Kennedy’s The Beasts of Bethlehem…… talk about diversity. And yes, in that account of the stable “happenings,” Mary smiles at the mice in the manger, thanks key animals for their warm breath on the new babe, and more. It’s a wonderful, playful piece, but it also shows that not all those in attendance GET what the Child is about. They see the bright light, but look up to or down on some of their fellow animals. The cats and mice reluctantly agree to live in harmony – at least while the Child remains. The sheep REALLY get it as they were sung to by the angels. The kids and I had great talks about all they saw and wondered about in the piece.
If by chance you don’t know it, I’d be happy to send you a file of my adaptation for many voices. NOT all of Kennedy’s lines were appropriate for these early readers but I’m grateful for his wonderful book. Happy Epiphany!