A favorite story that shows up in Christmas sermons and candlelight services each year recounts the presentation of a Christmas pageant in which a developmentally challenged young man plays the role of the innkeeper who turns away Mary and Joseph when they are seeking shelter with the brusque words, “No—there is no room here for you.” In this contemporary story, the young man is so moved by the plight of Mary and Joseph that instead of his scripted words of refusal, he opens the door wide and invites them inside, telling them that they can take his own room.
Christmas is behind us and we have moved into the first days of a new year when some will make the traditional New Year’s resolutions and others will simply hold a general intention to live better, make wiser choices, love with greater patience. And if not already, then someday soon, all those resolutions and intentions will be upended, forgotten, broken, set aside as unrealistic and not worth the effort to try and keep. We do hold an abiding desire to be better people—and we also seem to have an abiding resistance to change, especially when that change might be in our best interests. It seems a paradox of human nature to simultaneously seek the good and hold fast to lesser goods (or even what is clearly bad for us).
I see in the Christmas anecdote some wisdom for a new year and all those good-hearted intentions for improvement in our lives. My own efforts at change have more often produced results when I cleared a space for them, sometimes literally, sometimes symbolically. If I want to bring something new into my inn, I probably will first have to do a bit of remodeling, knock down a wall, widen a door frame, remove some clutter. Trying to simply introduce a new element into my daily routine, my cognitive processes, my habitual reactions, does not work because there is no room in the inn for that new element. Just cramming it into a gap somewhere seems destined to produce frustration and failure, not the desired change.
So perhaps in this new year we can re-write the innkeeper script as the young man in the pageant did, open a door rather than leaving it shut and going on with business as usual. That will then require us to move things around so that there is actually space for whatever, whoever comes through the door. But if we’re willing to make room, we just may find ourselves having brought some wonderful new life inside our walls.