We’ve been through Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, and now the Christmas season is waning. It’s no longer “Sunday, Week 1” every day at morning prayer, although we do still have special readings. Soon we will be back in ordinary time: psalms, antiphons, readings, prayers – no more flipping back and forth. The church will change to green again, and the lectionary cycle will go to year 1. In the non-liturgical world it’s already Valentines’ Day – Christmas is long gone, and Epiphany never existed. Life is going on in a rush with no discernible change for the birth of that baby so long ago, or the beginning of a new cycle around the sun.
Mary’s House is a kind of half-way territory, partly liturgical, partly secular. We are still emerging from Christmas, our minds turning now toward the coming year, toward cleaning our guest rooms and preparing to welcome more guests after our quiet retreat time. There’s a newsletter to think about, logistics for our next retreat (with Rose Berger) to plan, and a quiet question in the background: how will this new year be different from last year, in response to the birth of that child in Bethlehem, so long ago, and just last month?
What remains in my heart and mind after all the celebrations is a sense of the miraculous openings of the Christmas event. The characters in this story are all open to the impossible, the improbable, the amazing, the illogical, the unpopular, the unlikely. They are willing to pay a price, take a risk, put themselves on a line, to walk through doors hitherto unseen, in response to promptings that may be divine. Christmas and Epiphany are feasts of the open door. They speak to us of hospitality, of welcoming surprises in uncomfortable situations.
I ponder Mary’s hospitality: welcoming an angel into her room and a child into her life. She had no way of knowing who the angel was – she had to make the leap of faith that this was in fact an angel and not a demon. She had no way of knowing what this child would bring, but she did know that to bear and birth this child would open her up to disgrace and ridicule. She welcomed him. Joseph also had to welcome an angel, and a wife who should not have been pregnant, but was. When Joseph welcomed his son into the world it was with the knowledge that he was not the father. His hospitality accepted risk, met the dangers and challenge of protecting the child.
Open doors. There were open doors into the hearts of Mary and Joseph, shepherds and Magi – doors through which God entered in God’s own way and time. There were open doors into the stable and the manger. Shepherds and Magi, the dregs and the elite, Jew and Gentile, clean and unclean, were welcomed in that stable. Hospitality. Open doors.
As I listen to various leaders slam doors this year, I hope to remain open, to offer space for anyone God sends, and to accept the unique gift each one offers.
Shelley Douglass is a Pax Christi USA Teacher of Peace. She is the hospitaller at Mary’s House Catholic Worker in Birmingham, a member of Holy Family Parish, and active especially against war and the death penalty.