by Rev. Javier Olivares, West District Missional Strategist and Superintendent
And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger,
because there was no place for them in the inn. Luke 2:7 NRSV
One of my favorite Christmas hymns is “Room for Thee” by Emily E. S. Elliott and music by Ira D. Sankey. It is not in our United Methodist hymnal; however, the same lyrics to another tune is in the Faith We Sing called “Thou Didst Leave Thy Throne” with lyrics by Timothy R. Matthews and Music by Emily E.S. Elliott.
The refrain is short and to the point:
Come to my heart Lord Jesus
There is room in my heart for thee
These are always powerful words demanding action.
My grandparents lived in Puebla Mexico, close to what was called the Heifer Project or currently Give Ye Them To Eat, which I know many of your congregations are or have been connected to. Since Puebla was a big city, my grandparents were always hosting a young relative or acquaintance who would move to the city to go to college. Many who are now teachers, doctors, or engineers tell stories of my grandparents always having room for someone in spite of their small apartment, not to mention raising six children of their own. My grandmother always used to say, “if we have an unexpected visitor for dinner, it’s no problem, we just pour more water to the beans” which is a famous phrase in my culture. There was always room for someone else. Yet, when it came to making room for diverse opinions, my grandparents had a hard time finding space in their hearts and minds for someone different from them. The innkeeper of our traditional Christmas narrative has no room but finds a way to provide space for the Prince of Peace’s parents. I think the most difficult part is finding a space in our hearts and minds not so much for someone who is looking for a physical space, but for someone who thinks outside of our frame of mind or structure or moreover someone who tells us the truth we don’t want to hear or confront.
When we make room, it can be uncomfortable and perhaps painful but, in the end, it is healing. Now, I understand that there can be people who would do more harm than good to provide space for them. I think that is unfortunately the reality that. perhaps with some people, it is better that there is no space until the situation changes or if any healing happens, always keeping in mind your wellbeing first.
I think the essential part of the lesson is that like the innkeeper, we are invited to find creative ways of finding room. When we stop finding space, we stop growing or we begin to clutter our minds and hearts with other things that do not leave space for new ones.
Like those TV programs of “hoarders” where people have their houses full of things they think they need (but they don’t), so full they can’t even walk thru or even enter in some rooms. When we stop opening our minds and hearts to conversations different from our way of thinking, when we stop making room for people different from us, we start cluttering so much that it is impossible to enter in some spaces in our hearts with things we think we need or we cling to, and it’s hard to let go.
Let’s make space in our hearts and minds this season, opening them every day for new conversations and for people different from us, for those who challenge us to be better, who confront us with the truth we don’t want to hear.
Have a blessed Christmas and New Year!