Childrens' Advocate Marian Wright Edelman passed along a story told to her by The Rev. William Sloan Coffin when he was Pastor of the Riverside Church in New York City.
It was Christmas Eve and the pews at New York City's Riverside Church were packed. The Christmas pageant was underway and had come to the point at which the innkeeper was to turn away Mary and Joseph with the resounding line, "There's no room at the inn!"
The innkeeper was played by Tim, an earnest youth of the congregation who had Down Syndrome. Only one line to remember: "There's no room at the inn!" He had practiced it again and again with his parents and the pageant director and seemed to have mastered it.
So Tim stood at the altar, bathrobe costume firmly belted over his broad stomach, as Mary and Joseph made their way down the center aisle. They approached him, said their lines as rehearsed, and waited for his reply. Tim's parents, the pageant director, and the whole congregation almost leaned forward as if willing him to remember his line.
"There's no room at the inn!" Tim boomed out, just as rehearsed. But then, as Mary and Joseph turned on cue to travel further, Tim suddenly yelled "Wait!" They turned back, startled, and looked at him in surprise.
"You can stay at my house!" he called.
Such childlike generosity and hospitality are qualities of the heart that is receptive enough and spacious enough for Emmanuel. The One whom the heaven of heavens cannot contain is graciously pleased to come under our roof and dwell with us. May our hearts prepare for him and may he dwell in us as we celebrate his Holy Incarnation.
O holy Child of Bethlehem,
Descend to us, we pray;
Cast out our sin and enter in,
Be born to us today.
We hear the Christmas angels
The great glad tidings tell;
O come to us, abide with us,
Our Lord Emmanuel.