First Reading Isaiah 9:2-7
2The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness-on them light has shined…. 6For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.
Gospel Luke 2:1-14
1In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3All went to their own towns to be registered. 4Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. 5He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. 6While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. 7And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
8In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid; for see-I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger." 13And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, 14"Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!"
15When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us." 16So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. 17When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; 18and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. 20The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
If there’s anyone here who doesn’t know this story, I’m really glad that you’re here tonight. I hope you’ll leave your name and contact information on one of the visitor cards in the pew rack in front of you. I would love to hear your first impressions of this amazing story. If you’re new to the story of Jesus you have a unique contribution to make to the way we hear the story, because for many of us, it is so familiar it has lost some of its fire. Still, as familiar as this story is, God keeps opening our eyes to see different parts of it in a new way.
Last year in November I read all the Advent passages in a row to think about the big picture of Advent and Christmas. I remember coming to this passage and reading for the hundredth or thousandth time, “She gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.”
There I was, sitting on the carpeted floor of my office at home, when my voice broke and tears ran down my face. A pregnant woman travelling with her new husband was about to give birth, and there was no room for them in the inn. Christ the Lord came from heaven to save us, and there was no room for him in the inn.
I wept, but I certainly can’t judge, since I don’t always make room for Jesus either. How often do we lock Jesus out of our homes, out of our decisions, out of our hearts? How often are we the innkeeper who sees the young mother in need and decides not to make room? How often do we hear Christ knocking at the doors of our life and pretend we are not home? Why don’t we make room for Jesus? Why wasn’t there room for Christ at the inn?
Maybe being born in an inn would have been too easy anyway, too comfortable for God’s son. Jesus came to take on all the messiness of human life, all the pain and struggle, all the heartache and disappointment, all the joy and surprising tenderness. It shows us something important about God that Jesus was born in a stable, surrounded by animals with all their smells and sounds. Surrounded by cattle and donkeys that shout heehaw and try to knock over their keepers. Surrounded not only by peaceful sheep, but by unruly goats butting heads.
Christ was born into chaos and stink; born into a loving family and a dangerous world. It shows us something about God that God chose that stable. It shows us that God doesn’t put up protective walls, that God isn’t afraid of our mess and imperfection. God isn’t afraid to get close to the untidy and unpleasant parts of our lives. God welcomes us as we are and seeks us wherever we go.
It also shows us something about human nature. There was no room for Jesus at the inn, but the animals made room. There was no welcome at the inn, but the shepherds welcomed Christ with joy. There was no room at the inn, but there was rejoicing in heaven and on earth. Those of us who get to choose who we welcome into our lives often close the door pretty tightly. Those who don’t have the choice, those who don’t have any doors to close or choose to leave the door open, sometimes find joy in the unexpected and life-giving relationships where strangers gather.
Our world is so caught up in the demands of life. We strive for success; we strive for the things our culture says define us. There’s this constant push for “more:” more money, more presents, more food, more security. We build walls and lock doors to keep people out, to make sure there is room for the people we know and trust, people who are familiar, who we think can contribute in some obvious way.
Sometimes we feel bad when we turn someone away. Sometimes we feel guilty that we don’t make room, but the words of our culture remind us that we have to look out for ourselves. The words of our culture remind us that it’s important to be comfortable, that we might not have enough if we make room in our lives for the wrong kinds of people.
Christ knocks and finds no welcome, “I’m sorry, Jesus, not today. Maybe I’ll have time to let you in tomorrow.” “I’m sorry, God, there’s just no more room in my life.” So Christ goes down the road to a stable where there is room. God’s angels sing out with joy and announce the good news to people in the fields who will make room in their day and their lives for a strange baby. Christ goes where people make room for him, but he calls everyone to come and join the new story of love.
It’s never too late to make room for the baby Jesus, now is a great time to make room. Open up a place in your heart big enough to hold a new baby. Shower that baby with the love and attention a baby needs and he’ll grow up stronger than you can imagine. Babies always bring unexpected change; this baby brings salvation to all creation. This baby will free you from the fear and baggage that weighs you down. This baby will relieve you of all the guilt you feel for not living up to someone’s expectations. This baby will heal your isolation and heartache. This baby will free you from the emptiness of trying to conform to a society that bases so much of its identity on the lie of constantly seeking more.
Make room in your heart for Jesus. It won’t always be easy; there may be some times, as with any child you welcome, that you might wonder if you made the right choice. There may be times life would be simpler without that baby. But I promise that your life will be fuller and richer when you welcome Christ in and let him change you with his love. I promise you will become a better person. You’ll become more loving, more joyful, more hopeful if you welcome Jesus into your life.
This season is full of good times and good food. It’s full of the blessings of family and friends, full of warmth, comfort and new memories. We’re grateful for the time to be with the one’s we love. This season of family and friends and cheer reminds us of the joy of Christ’s birth, the joy of God’s love made flesh for all of us.
What if we let that joy open us up to the world around us? What if we let Christ’s love break down the walls that surround us and keep strangers out? The comfort and warmth of home will feel better; the good food will taste better when we welcome shepherds and travelers, when we welcome the lost and the fearful. The light of Christ will shine brighter when we share it with those trapped in darkness.
Come to the manger, open your heart, and welcome Jesus into your life.
Thanks be to God.
Gospel John 1:1-5
1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was in the beginning with God. 3All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.