Sermon for Christmas Day, Year B
Based on Lk. 2:1-14 & Ps. 96:9
By Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
"Is There Room?"
Have you ever asked or wondered what God, in God's infinite wisdom was doing by being born as a human being in a barn, in an insignificant town of Israel? What is this anyway ~ some kind of weird, cosmic joke? Doesn't the Christmas gospel of Luke leave you scratching your head at the ways in which God chooses to work? What kind of God would choose to give up his perfect state in heaven to be born as a human being and dwell among us?
Luke's Christmas story starts out by turning the world upside down. What, in the eyes of the world would have been centre stage, is for Luke, the backdrop of the story. He tells us with brilliant irony that: it's not the emperors and governors of this world who are the central movers and shakers of history. No! Rather, it's a humble birth in a small town barn who is the real mover and shaker of history.
For Luke, emperors and governors come and go, yet this Jesus and his story continues on forever. His birth was the most important historical event ever ~ yet, irony of ironies, paradox of paradoxes, so few people knew about it or believed it or celebrated it with the proper pomp and circumstances with which it deserved. God does indeed work in mysterious ways.
Who would have ever chosen to work like this? Who would have chosen the Saviour of the world to be born in a barn, with only a tiny handful of people to come and celebrate this most important historical event ever? Who would have chosen shepherds, the outcasts of society to worship the Messiah? Who would have thought that magi from foreign lands would come to offer gifts to this Saviour-King instead of the religious folk? Luke really does paint us a very upside-down world. Luke tells us that God comes to us in the least-likely places. God reveals God's self in the least-likely person. What a story!
One of the most revealing of statements that Luke makes, and I think, one of the saddest too, is the following: "there was no place for them in the inn." How could this be? Here we have the parents of "a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord" ~ yet, there's no place for them. Surely the innkeeper could have squeezed them in somewhere.
Did Mary and Joseph tell the innkeeper who this baby really was? Or, did they keep it a secret out of their own embarrassment? Surely if the innkeeper were told who Jesus really was, there would have been room at the inn ~ don't you think? Or, if the innkeeper couldn't find room for them, then what about some of the others that the innkeeper knew? Why not ask them? Surely there must have been somebody in town that would have welcomed them into their home? After all, the Scriptures instructed them to welcome strangers and show hospitality to them.
Why was there no place for the Holy Family to go other than a barn? Were they so blind to who this was? Were they too busy with "other things" that they missed out on the importance of this birth? Were their lives "too filled up" with the events of this world that they missed "the most important event of them all?" Or, were they "suspicious of" and "hostile towards" strangers ~ believing maybe that strangers were somehow members of "the enemy" and spying on them? Or, were they, especially the innkeeper, weary with "compassion fatigue?" It had maybe been a long day, they helped enough strangers already. Mary and Joseph arrived too late ~ the citizens of Bethlehem had exhausted their welcoming, hospitable spirit. They were just too dog-tired to help another soul.
Luke, for whatever reasons, chooses not to tell us why the innkeeper and the other citizens of Bethlehem failed to offer a place to the Holy Family. But, as I ponder this statement of Luke: "there was no place for them in the inn," I wonder, if things are all that much different today. Is there a place for "a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord" in our world, in our nation, in our city, in our churches, in our personal lives?
Our city squeezes out an alarmingly increasing number of people who are poor and homeless because there's no place for Christ in a lot of people's lives. More and more children in Canada are living in poverty because there's no room for Christ in people's lives. More and more children in other parts of the world are treated in such indescribable evil ways because there's no room for Christ in people's lives.
The wars, the racial and ethnic prejudices, the exploitation of Two-Thirds World nations; the lack of justice and mercy towards the poorest of the poor; the environmental destruction of our world continue because there's no place for Christ in people's lives. The meaning of Christmas is being lost and twisted and garbled beyond recognition by commercialism, because there's no room for Christ in people's lives. People get themselves so hyper, so psyched-up, by idealistic or romantic expectations of "the perfect Christmas," that there's no room for Christ in their lives. People are so deeply preoccupied with other gods of this world that there's no room for Christ in their lives. On and on it goes…
But still, as Luke tells us, there were some ~ albeit a minority ~ who did have room for Christ in their lives. They, like the Christ-child himself, were the least-likely folk: humble shepherds and foreigners called magi who studied the stars. You and I are here today because we too ~ thanks to the sheer love and grace of God ~ have made room in our lives for the Christ. We haven't forgotten that: "Christ's birth is the reason for the season." So, we come today to pay him homage, to offer him our worship.
The birth of Christ, ultimately leads people of faith to bow in awe, wonder, and reverence in worship. Our psalm today puts it very well in verse nine: "O worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness: fear before him, all the earth." I like that phrase, translated in the old King James Version as: "the beauty of holiness" because, unlike the other translations, I believe it refers to God, not us.
The other English translations seem to place the emphasis on us, not on God by their wording. Our God really is a God of beauty and holiness. Faithful people have tried to communicate this down through the ages in art, poetry, music, and so on. But, I believe, the most beautiful and most holy God is to be found in the manger, as a tiny baby.
So, worship him today, with joy and thanksgiving; because he became one of us. He was born as one of us, lived among us, shared completely our humanity, even to the point of suffering and a cruel death on the cross because he loves us. In this, his birth and his humanity, we have the clearest example of God's beauty and holiness.
Therefore, let's celebrate Christ's birth and humanity today and every day. Let's joyfully and lovingly share this Good News Of Great Joy With All People. Then maybe more and more people will have room in their lives for Christ. Then maybe all of the evils, injustices, divisions, wars and hatreds ~ so front-and-centre in this world shall come to an end. For in the person of Jesus Christ, God has chosen to save the world.
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