Christmas Eve, for the first 37 years of my life, was filled with music and candlelight. My dad would do one of his “singing sermons,” and the songs echo in my mind and heart still.
“No room, only a manger of hay. No room, He is a stranger today… Angels in Heaven up yonder, watch with amazement and wonder, to see the Son of the Highest treated so!” No room.
I’d like to think I would have opened the door for Joseph and Mary that night. I’d like to believe I would have looked at the heavily pregnant, tired, young woman, and her worried husband, and invited them in. Maybe I would have given them my own bed.
However, as much as I would like to believe that I would have made room for these weary travelers, I can also believe that I may not have done it. Like everyone else in that crowded, tired town, I may have closed the door on the Messiah.
The Irish, historically, have placed a candle in the window on Christmas Eve. The candle represented a welcome to Joseph and Mary; and indicated, especially to the poor, that they may find an offering of food within this house.
The season begins with a welcome, and a candle in the window.
A long time ago, perhaps so long ago that few people remember, it was a tradition in Ireland to open the back door on New Year’s Eve – to let the old year out. And then at midnight, it was the practice to open the front door and let the New Year in. On this day we have a chance to start again (honestly, we can start again any day, every day).
On New Year’s Eve it seems appropriate to exclaim, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he or she is a new creation: the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17, 18).
Paul says, “He died for all, that those who live would no longer live for themselves but for him who died and was raised again.” (2 Corinthians 5:15) We are given the ministry of reconciliation. We are the hands, and heart, of God in the world.
This week began, on Christmas Eve, with a candle in the window, welcoming the traveler. And on this night, New Year’s Eve, in Ireland they might set an extra place at the table. It is a way to honor and remember those who have died throughout the year.
They might leave the door unlatched, so their loved one can come in and join them at their meal. They wait in expectation, and remember their loved ones in conversation, and shared memories. I like this.
As Christ’s ambassadors in the world, as ministers of reconciliation, let us go into the New Year with the candle lit to welcome in the stranger. And may we always have an extra seat set at the table – remembering, not just those who have died, but those around us who need to be invited in.
Open the back door and let the old year out (it’s not too late). Open the front door (and your heart, and a space at your table), and welcome the New Year in.
That’s what I would have said…
Inhale: Heart of my own heart, whatever befall
Exhale: Still be my vision, O Ruler of all!