Words on Christmas

Do you remember chemistry labs?  The labs where you would mix things together and watch what would happen?  One of my favorite authors, Madeline L’Engle, goes from chemistry class to Bethlehem in the following poem entitled: “The Bethlehem Explosion.” (A Cry Like a Bell: Crosswicks, 1987.)

The chemistry lab at school
was in an old greenhouse
surrounded by ancient live oaks
garnished with Spanish moss.

The experiment I remember best
was pouring a quart of clear fluid
into a glass jar, and dropping into it,
grain by grain, salt-sized crystals,
until they layered 
like white sand on the floor of the jar.

One more grain—and suddenly—
water and crystal burst
into a living, moving pattern,
a silent, quietly violent explosion.
The teacher told us that only when
we supersaturated the solution, 
would come the precipitation.

The little town
was like the glass jar in our lab.
One by one they came, grain by grain,
all those of the house of David,
like grains of sand to be counted.

The inn was full.  When Joseph knocked,
his wife was already in labour; there was no room
even for compassion.  Until the barn was offered.
That was the precipitating force.  A child was born,
and the pattern changed forever, the cosmos 
shaken with that silent explosion.

Yes, the world once did not have a room for the God-in-the-flesh child.  But the world often has no room for lots of things:

No room for the patience it takes to do the long, messy grieving over the death of one who is precious to us.

No room for the respect needed to lay down its war of words or weapons against those who don’t think the same, or believe the same.

No room for the sharing needed for those in grinding poverty, who can’t manage to dig themselves out or feed themselves on nothing.

No room, except for the pointing of fingers, for those who have been unemployed for a long time.

No permanent room for thousands of war refugees living in tents on the borders of nowhere.

No room for immigrants who bring different ways.

No room for priorities to insure that all girls across the globe have access to education.

No room to set aside judgment in order to accommodate forgiveness.

No room for the powerless to have a clear enough voice to be heard.

What would you add to this list? There is no room for so much and for so many in this world.  Yet, in spite of the world’s scarcity of room, God made room for the world with the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem.  As the poet said, a silent explosion that one night has changed the pattern forever.  This is good news, the great joy we keep singing about today.  God squeezed into a manger and there is now room!

For forgiveness as deep as the ocean to rest upon the guilty and shamed-burdened.

For life as wide as eternity to hold the dying.

For welcome as spacious as the air we breathe to embrace the rejected and overlooked.

For freedom more powerful than cell walls to give hope to those imprisoned.

For healing stretching as high as the mountains to strengthen those who are broken.

For love reaching into the darkness left by absence to lift the lonely.

There is room  in God’s heart for all of us.  If God can squeeze into a manger, then God’s heart holds more than enough compassion for you and for me.  We may doubt whether we have any room in our lives for God, but there is no doubt that God has room for us:

No matter how far away we are.

No matter how far gone the situation troubling us is.

No matter how scornful the world has been.

No matter how many doors have been closed in our faces.

No matter how costly it will be to make a space for us, (the cost has been taken care of).

The silent explosion of Bethlehem has reversed things forever for us when Jesus, God-made-flesh, was born, lived, loved, died, was raised again and is yet present with us.  Yes, there is indeed room in God’s heart for us.  So much room that, in fact, the silent explosion once started in Bethlehem continues whenever God’s people in the name of the Christ Child make room for others in their hearts.

In the last month I’ve watched my brothers and sisters with whom I worship provide winter shelter (several months rent) for a single mother and her two small children until there is an opening in a program that will get the mother the permanent skills she needs to be independent. In the last weeks I have seen these same people make room for young children to get a head start in their education, put Christmas dinners on tables of families whose pantries are bare, knit mittens for cold hands, and take soup to the sick.  The Bethlehem explosion continues through God’s people, signs that the cosmos is still shaking from that silent explosion.

Where can you see it happening?