Advent Reflection (12) – God Arrives but asks for Room

“Into this world, this demented inn
in which there is absolutely no room for him at all,
Christ comes uninvited.” (Thomas Merton)

This week we have been trying to sort out how we facilitate our Christmas Services at church. After the building being closed for a few weeks because of the Covid-19 Pandemic, we can open again tomorrow (11th December). We have already done as much as we can to re-jig things so that people can gather. As a church family we have been deeply committed to the safety standards and the recommendations of our public health bodies, our denomination and the scientific community. We believe that to love our neighbours is to look after issues like handwashing, social distancing, mask wearing and making sure our buildings are as safe as they can be. We do this without complaint and as part of wider society in Northern Ireland, the United Kingdom and on the island of Ireland.

We have faced a challenge, however, because our services are over-subscribed. We have been running a stringent booking system for months, always leaving room for visitors and making sure the seating is socially distanced. Across our Christmas and Advent services though, this has been particularly challenging. On Sunday 13th we have a special time for those who have lost loved ones and have struggled with sorrow and grief – we call it a ‘White Christmas’ service. It’s full. O Wednesday 16th we have a service of carols by candlelight – it’s full too. We have had to schedule an extra slot for a Christmas service over the weekend of the 19th / 20th December – adding a third space for people – I have no doubt it will fill. Our Christmas Eve and Christmas Day gatherings will also be full. I am not telling you that to boast, but rather to highlight a challenge – what to do when there is no room.

From the moment it was clear that this was going to be the case we have worked hard to ensure safety, and made it a commitment not to put people at risk. My mind has been caught, though, throughout facing the Christmas challenge with making sure that we made ‘room at the inn’. I don’t want anyone who wants to participate in communal worship to be turned away. I don’t want to send a message to our community, to Northern Ireland society, or to our church family that says ‘we are full’. There is always room in God’s family. I know it is wrong to connect building capacity with space to connect with God, yet at the same time I just want all people to know that they are welcome and there is room for them in the Christmas celebrations and in our community of faith. If I feel that, and I am a broken, flawed and imperfect man and pastor, then how much more does God feel it for the world? There is always room at the Manger, and there is always room at the Cross. There is always room at the Communion Table for the person in need of grace, and for the one who seeks hope.

There is always room at the Manger, and there is always room at the Cross. There is always room at the Communion Table for the person in need of grace, and for the one who seeks hope.

Thomas Merton reminds us that God came into a world that did not want to make room. God arrived into the chaos of our world, uninvited by most and unwelcomed. Yet God came. God’s Son, born into the mess and given human form amidst the pain of political oppression in Israel, arrives. And with Christ comes hope…and peace…and love…and joy. With Jesus comes the possibility of a different future, a better story to believe, a renewed sense of purpose and meaning. Above all, with Christ comes forgiveness – our hostility to God swallowed up in the victory of Jesus, in the sacrifice of our Saviour, in the reconciling work of our Redeemer.

With Jesus comes the possibility of a different future, a better story to believe, a renewed sense of purpose and meaning. Above all, with Christ comes forgiveness – our hostility to God swallowed up in the victory of Jesus, in the sacrifice of our Saviour, in the reconciling work of our Redeemer.

He makes room for us, even when we crowd Him out with our words, our actions, our attitudes and our priorities. He waits for us to open our hearts to Him. He watches and sees us as we walk through life. And He waits.

He is waiting now for us to see Him, to welcome Him, to acknowledge that He has come, and He is here, and He will come again.

He makes room for us.

Will we make room for Him?

He makes room for us, even when we crowd Him out with our words, our actions, our attitudes and our priorities. He waits for us to open our hearts to Him. He watches and sees us as we walk through life. And He waits. He is waiting now for us to see Him, to welcome Him, to acknowledge that He has come, and He is here, and He will come again.He makes room for us. Will we make room for Him?

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