Every year we begin our celebration of Christmas with Solemn Chapter, held in the Chapter Hall, including the singing of the Announcement of Christmas and a sermon given by one of the sisters. This year, Sr. Mary Rose delivered a beautiful sermon, which we offer below in order that the world may enjoy it and not just the sisters!
To meditate on Christmas can be a daunting task, for the Infancy Narratives read something like a romance or a fairytale: a poor couple, an evil king, exotic visitors, heavenly messengers, narrow escapes, celestial signs. It all sounds so far removed from our everyday experiences. However, there is one experience recounted in Luke's telling that some of us can probably relate to: trying to find a room in a hotel. I personally can recall a cold night in Flagstaff, AZ. My father, after many hours of driving across the desert, was going from hotel to hotel looking for a room for his family. We children, peering out of the van windows, could see the red neon lights under each hotel's sign flashing "No Vacancy". I do not remember how the night ended, but the memory of going from place to place remains.
Often dramatic or cinematic presentations of Mary and Joseph's arrival in Bethlehem portray St. Joseph knocking on many doors looking for lodging. What St. Luke actually says is, "They found him lying in a manger because there was no room in the inn," (Luke 2:7b), implying that there was only one inn in Bethlehem, which, given the size of the village, is quite likely...The full inn could be interpreted spiritually as St. Luke's way of saying what St. John articulated as "He came to his own home, and his own people received him not." (John 1:11) It is often interpreted personally as a warning to make sure that there is room in one's own heart for the Lord's coming, not having it overcrowded with distracting anxieties or over-attachment to spiritual and temporal goods. These interpretations are legitimate and useful; however, literally, there is no reason to think that the inn refused to receive Mary and Joseph out of ill will, greed or snobbery. It was not that Mary and Joseph were unable to pay for lodging. It was simply that there was no more room. True, no one went so far as to give up their own place to a young mother about to go into labor, but it is often assumed the stable Mary and Joseph ended up in was the inn's, which would indicate that the innkeeper was not heartless...It seems that God the Father was engaging in the kind of hyperbole Jesus would come to love, exaggerating to make a point. To give a faint indication of how far His Son was stooping, He has Him born among the animals....
...When God enters one's life, this is what happens: everything changes. Both Joseph and Mary had heard God knocking at their doors: Mary through the angel Gabriel and Joseph through his dreams. Both let Him in. And the world has never been the same. This has happened to us as well: in our initial call, in the daily promptings of grace. Entering the monastery was life-changing, so we should not be surprised if God continues to turn our world upside down. He does this so His Son can enter.
Let us ask St. Joseph, then, to intercede for us that we may pursue our own vocation in single-mindedness, in the concrete circumstances of our own time, in trust that God will come to dwell with us for we know, as Joseph did, that God can turn a stable into heaven.