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Christmas In The ER

It is Christmas Eve and I am reminded of the night when Mary and Joseph arrive in Joseph’s home town to be counted in the census. It was a long, tiring journey. Mary was late in her pregnancy, the inns were full, and a stable was the only place they were able to find rest.

I find myself wondering what this story would look like today. Perhaps Mary and Joseph would have traveled by bus? Would they have arrived at the bus station downtown looking for a place to stay ? Would the need for some kind of registration in the state capital be the reason for their arrival ? And where would they go if their resources were few? As the hour of birth approaches, would they seek help? Might they even come to the ER?

It’s a common occurrence for people to come to the emergency department seeking help, especially during the winter. Some arrive looking for a warm place to sit or a meal. Others come looking for medical help when no other clinics or urgent care centers will see them. Patients do not get turned away at the ER  for lack of payment. Emergency rooms are our nation’s medical safety net. But working in the ER has it’s frustrations. I have found myself upset at those who utilize the ER as a place to stay warm, get something to eat, get a medication refill, or just because they need some kind of social assistance. But, isn’t that part of what we do as the safety net ?

If Mary and Joseph walked into your ER today, would they find shelter ? Would they find a compassionate staff and caring physicians ? Or would they be looked upon as abusers of the system? Would it be a cold and dirty environment synonymous with a stable? Would they be surrounded by “animals” in the waiting room? Would that waiting room be the ideal place for our Lord to be born ? If the stable reflects the state of humanity at the time of Jesus’s birth; a world covered in sin, filthy, and in need of a savior, what would be a better reflection of the world today than our ER waiting rooms? Our sick, our tired, our poor, our people in need, all mixed together at a time so vulnerable in their lives that regardless of their economic status they all find themselves sitting in one room together. It seems like the perfect place for Jesus’s birth today. And if that is true, it serves as another reminder of our role as Christians in healthcare.

When Jesus is not present in person, the next best thing is our presence imbued by the Holy Spirit. We become His hands, His voice, and are called to share His love. Having compassion is not easy. It requires us to step outside our own situation and see the world through the eyes of another. Christ’s compassion requires the heart to lead and the mind to follow. It requires us not simply to find a quick solution, but to speak truth, bring light, and then walk alongside. It is one of the most difficult things to do, and certainly the most impactful. At a time when staffing may be low, acuity may be high, and we are consumed in Christmas and family travel planning, compassion can be sorely lacking. We are overworked, sleep deprived, and looking to the end of a busy week in hopes of upcoming “rest” which often brings further stress. With this mindset, we step into a chaotic environment of diminished community resources, closed clinics, shelters at capacity, poor staffing, and full waiting rooms. Is it even possible to expect Christ’s compassion to enter into such a place? Certainly the answer is yes. Biblical history is full of the most severe of challenges and situations in which the Holy Spirit enters, and brings about change. It is not that we need to carry an additional burden during this time, but quite the opposite. Allowing the Lord to carry our burdens for us frees us to be the people we were created to be, loving and compassionate.

For all of you working in the ER this Christmas, I offer this excerpt from today’s prayers of the people:
  • At this holy time, Christians the world over are celebrating his birth. Open our hearts that he may be born in us today.
  • At this holy time, there was no room for your Son in the inn. Protect with your love those who have no one and all who live in poverty.
  • At this holy time, Mary in the pain of labor brought your Son to birth. Hold in your hand all who are in pain or distress.
  • At this holy time, your Christ came as a light shining in the darkness. Bring comfort to all who suffer in the sadness of our world.
  • At this holy time, the angels sang “Peace to God’s people on earth.” Strengthen those who work for peace and justice in all the world.
  • At this holy time, strangers found the Holy Family, and saw the baby lying in the manger. Bless our homes and all whom we love.
  • At this holy time, heaven is come down to earth, and earth is raised to heaven. Keep in safety all those who have gone through death in the hope of heaven.
  • Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.
Musical Accompaniment:  My Joy Is Complete – Citizens


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