A Letter from the General Minister to Pittsburgh Presbytery
A Holy Night, A Holy Place
December 19, 2020
Much is made of the inhospitable “no room” response Mary and Joseph encountered as they sought accommodations in Bethlehem. Yet there was a place for them, a place very different from what they sought. And there on a holy night that unexpected place became holy also.
“Holy” means “set apart.” Something holy has a special and unexpected purpose, quite apart from its common usage. The first Christmas night was like any other night, but it became holy because of Jesus’ birth. The place of his birth is unclear, but whatever it was, it was an unexpected place of accommodation. Perhaps it would have been voted “least likely to be called holy.” Yet it was made holy because of what happened there.
Holiness often appears at the most unexpected times and undesired places. I am writing this from a hospital room, where I am with my Dad. He seems to be in no serious danger, but as a necessary precaution we are sitting in a place he and I would rather not be. Visits to the hospital are more frequent as I journey with my parents through their nineties. They are also residing in a place that is not of their choosing, as their physical disabilities require that they live in a personal care institution. It is not a place where they want to be. Yet perhaps in this season of vulnerability, such places can be especially holy.
Mary and Joseph were in Bethlehem because they were forced there by an imperial edict, not because they wanted to be there. Mary’s doctor would not have permitted this trip, had there been any choice in the matter. And when they arrived, they were refused shelter in the place they wanted to stay. All of which was staging for the most holy night of all in the most holy place of all.
If we find ourselves in an unwanted, unexpected place, we are in the good company of Mary and Joseph. Who knows what holy things might emerge in this unwelcome place and time?
O Come, thou Dayspring, come and cheer
our spirits by thine advent here;
disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
and death’s dark shadows put to flight.
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel. (ancient Latin hymn)
Holy Season blessings to all!
The Rev. Dr. Sheldon W. Sorge, General Minister