How many people have visited a church this Christmas? From the formal beauty of a cathedral to the cheerful mayhem of toddler worship, we seek holy space at this time of year. We sing familiar carols and hear stories of Christ’s birth. Maybe in a quiet moment we are lifted beyond the flurry of preparations into God’s wonderful presence.
Yet Jesus was not born in any kind of holy space. It’s not clear what Luke means when he says there was no room for them in the inn, but it is obvious that Jesus was born in a multi-purpose space for people and animals. What privacy did Mary have as she gave birth for the first time? What provision was she able to make for her baby? This is not the stable of so many paintings, where even the straw is sanitised. Jesus begins life in a place that could not be more down-to-earth.
The shepherds’ visit makes the same point. Their arrival would have been noisy and probably alarming for this new little family. They were night-time security guards, protecting sheep from robbers while their owners slept. Their status was low and perhaps they would not have been welcome in places of worship. They were not seen as holy people.
What makes a place holy? Maybe beauty and calm help create the sense of peace that draws us close to God. Yet at the heart of holiness is not human activity but the presence of Jesus. In his birth, he brought holiness into the centre of human life in all its raw reality. In his life, he brought holiness into communities broken by sin and exploitation. In his death, holiness radiated even from the horror of the Cross – just because he was there. And in him, death was transformed into new life.
May the presence of the baby Jesus transform your life this Christmas, bringing you joy in his companionship through all the ordinary things of life and leading you into holiness.
O holy Child of Bethlehem, come to us this Christmas. Bring us joy, transform our lives by the wonder of your presence, teach us to love one another as you love us, and let us know your peace.