Every year, on Christmas Eve I traditionally have the children place baby Jesus into the mangers. He is never there before Christmas because Advent is meant to be the season of expectation and a time for us to work on displaying welcoming hearts. But this tradition has struck me this year as reminding me of the Jewish tradition of leaving a door open and a cup of wine filled for Elijah on Passover. They too wait with expectation of the return of the prophet that will signify the coming of a Savior or a king for Israel. Sometimes I feel like after Christmas when we clean up all the decorations and store away the nativity Crèches for next year we also store away the expectation, that preparation and welcoming attitude for next year right along with it.
Advent, the season preparation for the coming Christ, does not end with Christmas. But rather it is an attitude that we are encouraged to carry with us throughout the whole year. We should be aiming to welcome, and offer warmth, love, joy, hope, and peace to Christ throughout the year and we do so by the way we treat one another. Even those people we don’t particularly care for or who are not particularly kind to us in return. We heard in our scriptures tonight how Mary being great with child traveled to Bethlehem for a census, i.e. to be taxed. Here she was a woman in her third trimester, and I can identify with her, riding a donkey having traveled 69 miles. She would have been sore, swollen, probably hungry, in a strange place, cranky, and when she arrives in Bethlehem she is turned away from every place to rest even as the pains of labor had begun. Mary and Joseph were not welcomed. They did not receive warmth or compassion or care in those moments. An open door of welcome was not available for their coming.
No one saw this as an opportunity to do something kind for someone else or to even welcome a new child into the world. They were taxed and then told to give birth in a manger like a cow. Theologian Thomas Merton reminds us that, “Into this world, this demented inn in which there is absolutely no room for [Christ] at all, Christ comes uninvited.” This doesn’t exactly give the feelings of warm and fuzzy, or loving and welcoming. Unfortunately, this is often how our world still acts. We turn away those in need when it is inconvenient. We offer coldness first to others and expect the worst of one another. But in Advent, Christians are called to rethink these attitudes.
We are asked to be welcoming, to offer warmth, to give love and support and in so doing create room in our hearts for the coming of Christ. We leave the door open to the movement of the Holy Spirit and the hope filled word of Christ by how we embrace one another. We continue to wait expectantly and in so doing we help to bring peace and care to a world that often seems jaded and hostile. With the birth of Christ, we need to ask ourselves, have we enough room in our hearts, in our lives, for the presence of Jesus, God, and the teachings that that requires us to live into? When Christ comes once more will he find the warmth, welcome, hope, love, and joy that he did not receive the first time around? This time around, he comes to our hearts and it is up to us to leave the door to our hearts and lives open, hopeful, joyous, and loving. It is up to us whether Christ comes uninvited or comes fully welcomed. So the typical Christmas question of: “Are you ready for Christmas” is about so much more than Christmas trees and gifts. It is about reminding the world to love as God has loved us, to love as if every day were Christmas day.
 Thomas Merton, 20th century theologian.