Christmas Eve Sermon December 24, 2019
Merry Christmas, everyone! During Advent we have been on a journey that takes a look at how the Holy One blesses each and every one of us with the ability to be transformed in our lives. Keeping Christmas well is not about signs of our own prosperity, but signs of our own transformation – getting our true selves back or strengthening our true selves so that we might give fully of ourselves with joy.
And in the spirit of joy I share this story. And in the spirit of truth I share the fact that – at the moment – I have no idea where it came from.
“Wally was big for his age – seven years old. everyone wondered what role the teacher would give him in the annual Christmas play. Especially considering the fact that he was also a slow learner. Perhaps he could pull the curtain. To everyone’s surprise the teacher gave Wally the role of the innkeeper. The boy, of course, was delighted. After all, all he had to learn was one line: ‘There is no room in the inn.’ He had that down in no time.
Then came the night for the program. The parents took their places. Every seat in the auditorium was filled. The children entered singing ‘O Come All Ye Faithful’. The lights dimmed. A hush moved over the audience. The curtain opened on Scene One. Mary and Joseph entered the stage and walked up to the inn. ‘Please sir, my wife is not well. Could we have a room for the night? Wally was ready for his line. He had rehearsed it all night. He began, ‘there is …’ and hesistated. He started over again. ‘There is …” and again his mind went completely blank. Everyone was embarrassed for him, but poor Wally just didn’t know what to do. Joseph thought he would improvise and started walking away toward the stable on stage left. Seeing him walking away Wally, in desperation, called out: ‘Look, there’s plenty of room at my house. Just come on home with me.’”
Now, that’s a rather delightful twist on a familiar story. Over the years the characters in the Christmas story have become clearly defined for each of us. The issues all seem so clear cut. Herod was a villain and the wise men were heroes. The shepherds were heroes and the Innkeeper – well, that poor innkeeper has gone down as one of the heavies in the story. In our minds eye, we envision him as a grumpy old man sticking his head out a window and angrily shouting: ‘Take the stable and leave me alone.’
But perhaps the innkeeper has received bad press. Preachers over the centuries have had a field day with this poor guy. But was it his fault that the inn was built with twelve rooms instead of thirteen? Was it his fault that Caesar Augustus had issued a decree that the entire world should be taxed back in their homeland, so that it was overrun with people just doing what was expected of them? Was it his fault that Mary and Joseph were so late in arriving? This was probably a rough trip for them, especially with Mary so close to delivering that baby. Who knows, she may have been having labor pains along the way that slowed them down.
But you know, this simple little statement about there being no room in the inn becomes a symbol for Luke. As he writes his gospel it almost becomes a theme. Luke takes this one line, ‘There is no room in the inn,’ and shows us how this phrase was recurrent throughout Jesus’ ministry. Think about all the stories we’ve read about Jesus. The question that Luke leaves for us is – will there ever be any room for him?” (source unknown) Not only in the inn but also in our lives and in our hearts? So, don’t keep Christ in Christmas but let that Spirit run free in our lives and in the world every day.
Let’s to go back and talk about Wally for a moment. I think that kid sure has the right idea – his kindness speaks the Spirit of Love to each of us. I sometimes think that the innkeeper was frustrated and overwhelmed with all the strangers in town because of Augustus’ decree and was sad to keep turning people away while he would have loved to have them stay with him, to take them home as Wally offered.
I remember a vacation time several years ago when I was traveling from Park City, Utah to Arches National Park outside of Moab. I got there on Thanksgiving Day. I chose to go there on Thanksgiving Day specifically thinking the traffic through the park would be light. Oh my gosh, was I wrong! I did not make overnight reservations, thinking there’d be plenty of places for me to stay. And, once again, I was wrong! One place after another, I was told there was not room, or the charge for an available room was way beyond my means! I finally had to drive out to the nearest town – about 20 miles away – to get a room for the night. I was so thankful to find something, even though I would not have chosen that motel if I really had a choice. So, I can understand the innkeeper’s frustration at having to keep turning people away.
I can also sense Joseph’s relief at having some sort of shelter offered to him and Mary. I don’t think they would have chosen that place to stay if they really had a choice. It was not the best place to deliver a child, but it was much better than in the streets or fields. Although given a bad rap – I think the innkeeper may also have had a spirit of love, like Wally’s, that offered this manger place for this couple.
It is also hard not to think of all the asylum seekers desiring refuge in the United States and being turned away by our government. So many borderland communities have been extremely helpful during this last year and Las Cruces has been no different. There are those who claim these strangers are not wanted – there is no room in the inn – but there is a spirit of love, like Wally’s, that counteracts that thought and offers food and shelter and prayers for safety to those who desire a new life away from violence and danger.
Like Wally, the spirit of love is strong in First Christian Church and the city of Las Cruces. In the spirit of love we continue to hold immigrants in prayer for their safety and well-being and pray for God’s spirit of love to enter every human heart.
I close tonight with a poem I have been using on Christmas Eve in many services since 1991. It was written by Peggy Shriver. This poem/parable is entitled: “The Spirit of Thirty-Fourth Street’ (Pinches of Salt: Spiritual Seasonings)
Doors opened with a silent scream,
Like photographs of anguish;
The subway paused, shed cargo
And raged on.
She lurched aboard,
Sagged into a vacant seat,
Frail weight of her gray years
Hunched with cold.
Numb fingers plucked at rags,
Drawn close against raw misery.
Knuckles, cracked and swollen white,
Clutched into a plea for warmth.
He, dark and lithe
Swung down the aisle,
Taut jeans dancing
With Latin grace
He, sliding past
Her patient form,
In one smooth gesture
Disappeared through the subway doors,
Leaving in her lap,
Like folded dove wings,
His black leather gloves.
This, to me, is the heart and message of Christmas and of the Christian message. This reflection of unexpected and undeserved grace is what makes my heart sing and my faith deepen, and my eyes fill with tears.
On this most blessed of nights – may your hearts sing and your faith deepen and your eyes fill with tears as we glimpse God’s enormous love for us – each of us – God’s beloved. Amen.
Copyright DMC 2019