December 24, 2016 – The Manila Cathedral was brimming with people during the celebration of the Christmas Eve Mass led by Cardinal Luis Antonio G. Tagle. The Archbishop of Manila is seen here venerating the image of the baby Jesus.
One detail of the account of Jesus’ birth in St. Luke’s Gospel that has captured the imagination of generations of Christians goes this way: “She [Mary] wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn” (Luke 2:7). The lack of room in the travelers’ inn led Mary and Joseph to the manger. The Filipino tradition of Panuluyan has creatively attributed the lack of room not only to the crowds present in Bethlehem but also to the refusal of owners of houses to let Mary and Joseph in. We can see the influence of St. John’s Gospel where it states, “He came to what was his own, but his own people did not accept him” (John 1:11). But no matter what the interpretation, the fact remains that Jesus was born outside of the town. The “daybreak from on high [who] will visit” (Luke 1:78) found no hospitality in his ancestors’ city. He was born on the margins, where many neglected and ignored people lived. Unknown to many, this unwelcome Visitor would establish the Reign of God’s Hospitality.
We Filipinos claim that hospitality is second-nature to us. We make strangers or guests feel at home in our company. Our home becomes their home. Hospitality enables us to expand our home so that no one could say there was no room for them. Christmas is a reminder of hospitality denied by people but reversed by the merciful hospitality offered by God. I pray that our Christmas may make us more hospitable or welcoming to others, especially the poor and needy. Will we make room for them?
As Filipinos and as members of the human family, we need to ask: why is there room for a new television set or the latest gadget but not for another child in the family? Why is “rugby” for sniffing available but not affordable nutritious food? Why are vices within reach of young people while education seems unattainable? Why are guns and other weapons more accessible than decent jobs? Why is there ample room for hatred and revenge but too little for compassion and forgiveness? Why is there no room for hope for those who have gone astray but much space for condemnation by the self-righteous? Why is there room for profit but little empathy for victims of human trafficking, unfair labor practices, abuse and violence and for wounded creation? Why is there room for hostile despair but little for tender hope? Why is there room for destroying lives but minute space for saving them? What has happened to hospitality? Without hospitality, how could humanity survive?
Will there be room for Jesus in our heart, homes, neighborhoods and nations this Christmas? Let us welcome Jesus in the hungry, thirsty, homeless, sick, naked and prisoners so that one day we may enjoy the hospitality of God, “Come, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you.” A blessed and hopeful Christmas to all of you!