Christmas Sermon: When There Is No Room

Christ was born that we may have love.

Christ was born that we may have light.

Christ was born that we may have peace.

Christ was born that we may have joy.

Love, light, peace, and joy. I pray that these may be yours this Christmas and throughout the year.

I don’t know about you, but for me it is easier tonight to remember Christ’s love, light, peace, and joy than it is at other times of the year. On a night like tonight we have so many symbols and reminders of what Christ brings–candles, hymns, children’s beautiful voices, this amazing Gospel story that again fills us with wonder, depictions of the nativity surrounded by animals and straw–these all serve to remind us of what the birth of Christ child means for our world.

At this time of year, many of us decorate our homes with such reminders. My family and I decorated our home. We have a lighted tree and advent candles and not one but two nativity scenes. One is made from olive wood that originates from somewhere near Bethlehem, and it is placed neatly on the mantle over the fireplace in our living room, with just a few green pine branches spread around it. The figures all face toward the center where Mary and Joseph sit with the baby Jesus lying in the manger.

The other nativity set in our home is a plastic one manufactured by Fisher Price and sits—most of the time—on the floor by our Christmas tree. Depending on the mood of our two young children, the figures may be facing the center or spread around the room. Standing up on top of the stable might be the angel figure, as intended, or alternatively a shepherd, or even the baby Jesus himself. And some days I discover that nativity set filled not only with the usual biblical characters but also Lego people and Disney princesses and possibly a Star Wars character or two. I think Chewbacca might be at the manger right now.

There’s no question that neither of these nativity scenes bears much resemblance to what it was like on the night Jesus was born. But I’ve started to look at that second one—the messy, chaotic, busy one—as a messenger of sorts of an important spiritual lesson of Christmas. Whatever that night was like, it was not very peaceful, either before or after the birth. When we read the Nativity story from Luke’s Gospel, we hear quite clearly that Mary laid the baby Jesus in a manger because there was no place for him the inn. Now, in my imagination, I have often pictured the desk clerk at Bethlehem’s version of a Radisson Hotel saying, “Sorry, all filled up,” forcing the Holy Family to go on a sort of camping trip out back. The cattle are gently lowing, the sheep graze in the distance, and a dazzling array of stars lights up the clear sky. Not a bad way to spend a night, really.

But when the Gospel of Luke says “inn,” it actually means something like a guest room. Most houses, though small, had a place where guests could stay. And the manger was probably located not outside but in the lower level of the house where animals and people alike walked through and went about their very busy day. It wasn’t a quiet camping scene but a loud and frantic and crowded house. People were spilling out of every room. As a poem in our Advent worship a week ago pointed out, there is a “bitter shame common among the poor of having no privacy.” Certainly, for Mary and Joseph and the newborn baby Jesus, there was no privacy, no quiet, no peace. After their long, unexpected, and involuntary migration far from home, they found that there was barely any room at all.

What kind of a world could not make room for the birth of Jesus?

That’s the question I’ve started asking myself every time I look at our children’s messy nativity scene at the base of the Christmas tree. What kind of world could not make room for Jesus?

It’s the question that was on my mind one day when, thumbing through a magazine, I saw a photo of about 25 Syrian refugees piled onto a small inflatable raft, paddling across the Aegean Sea. It seemed to me they could barely move, crowded together as they were. And still these families had embarked on a long journey, not knowing whether they would find a welcome at the end of it but going nonetheless because what they were leaving behind was simply unlivable. Here is the world, it occurred to me, which cannot make room for Jesus. Here is the world which still has very little space for the incarnation of God.

Across the world and in our own neighborhoods it so often seems that there just isn’t room. The earth is too full, our own lives are too full for such things as love, light, peace, and joy.

But then tonight we hear that Christ was born into a busy and crowded house where there was such little room. Tonight we are reminded of an astonishing promise: even when it doesn’t seem like there’s room—especially when it doesn’t seem like there’s room—God will be with us. God will be with you. This is how great God’s love is for this earth and all its inhabitants.

Rejoicing in that promise, perhaps we will be inspired to make a little more room for the things that the birth of Christ promises:

For love…for neighbors and strangers and for all of creation

For the light of hope…that protests against cynicism and fear and despair

For peace…between people and between nations

And for the joy of recognizing how meaningful and valued life is

Christ is not born only when there is love, light, peace, and joy but when they are needed. This is how much God loves this world. Thanks be to God that Christ has come to us tonight.

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