Advent 2020: Welcome to the ‘Demented Inn’

by Steve Givens

In just a few weeks, we begin what will likely be one of the strangest and most distracted advent and holiday seasons that most of us will ever experience. We will hunker down and stay indoors, unable to celebrate and gather as we usually do. Advent prayer services will stream online. Family Christmas gatherings will be put off or “Zoomed.” Many will grieve the loss of the season, even as we grieve those who have been lost to us during this strange and pandemic year.

And yet, this might be the very best time to reconnect with the God who stooped to become one of us.

“Advent may be the best time of year to consider what will come out of the pandemic we are suffering through, for this liturgical season reminds us of our time of hope at a time when it can be difficult to find hope in the world,” writes Fr. Joe Tetlow, SJ, in the current issue of Jesuits Central and Southern. “As the virus seeps everywhere, nothing could make us more hopeful than remembering that our Creator and Lord has come into our flesh.”

So, in this advent hope — even in a seemingly hopeless time — we wait to welcome Christ again to the world. Unlike those people in Bethlehem 2,000 years ago, we pledge to make room for him in the “inns” of our hearts, right? That’s the real hope for us right now. Do we have the courage to open the door?  

In his essay, “The Time of the End is the Time of No Room,” Thomas Merton wrote:

“Into this world, this demented inn, in which there is absolutely no room for Him at all, Christ has come uninvited. But because He cannot be at home in it, because He is out of place in it, and yet must be in it, His place is with those others for whom there is no room. His place is with those who do not belong, who are rejected by power because they are regarded as weak, those who are discredited, who are denied status as persons, who are tortured, bombed, and exterminated. With those for whom there is no room, Christ is present in the world.”

I’m not sure there has been another time in my 60 years that I have felt so much like I was living in a “demented inn.” The world seems wracked in pain — in disease, in social and political unrest, and in every conceivable kind of violence. And yet, Christ comes — has come and continues to come — to us all. Whether we invite him or not, whether we are aware or not, Christ is present. He is not far away, waiting on a high mountain for us to struggle up to him. He is not buried deep in the rubble of history waiting for us to excavate him. Rather, he is standing right beside us, waiting for us to turn toward him.

And when we do that and find him in the comfort of our warm homes, we must be aware of all the others to whom he has come as well. For if Christ lives in us, as we Christians so often claim, then it falls to us to be the safe space in the demented inn, available to others. It is up to us to present Christ to the world, and especially to those who seem to have no room to go to. If Christ’s place is with those who are weak and do not belong, then so is ours.