Sermon by Pastor Ben Cieslik.
It had one of those signs, like you see at McDonald’s or Popeye’s, the kind with plastic letters the manager shuffles around to make words, sometimes using a 1 to replace an I. On this particular sign there was an “a” that had fallen off, so had one of the “e’s.” So what once read “free HBO” and “new manager.” Now said, “fre hbo and “new manger.”
There was no doubt about it. Dave’s City Motel was a dump. But it was cold and rainy, and Maria was real tired of walking. So he hoped that maybe this could be the place.
All the letters in the “No Vacancy” sign were functioning, and in angry red script it confirmed what Jose already knew. There was no place anywhere in the city. No place for his wife and their soon-to-be-born baby.
There was no place for them.
This past week, the image I just described, has been making the rounds on the usual digital channels. It’s a comic book style drawing and it depicts a modern day setting of Luke’s gospel. In it, Mary and Joseph – or Maria and José, stand in the rain outside a convenience store, looking dejected and exhausted. Jose is on the phone, presumably calling other motels. Maria is sitting on an out-of-order little kids merry go-round. It’s clear they are not sure what to do next. And so for the first time, at least the first time I can remember, as I’ve been reading the Christmas story, I’ve gotten hung up on a part of the story that I haven’t before. It’s the part just before Jesus is born.
In the gospel of Luke, it can seem like a bit of an afterthought. But it’s not.
And Mary 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.
The was no place for them in the inn.
This is no small detail. The Son of God, the long awaited Messiah, the savior of the world, is born in a city, is born in a world that has no place for him.
Thomas Merton, was a 20th Century American Monk. He was a prolific writer. In his book Raid on the Unspeakable, there was a short essay entitled, “The Time of the End Is the Time of No Room” and it contains these thoughts.
“Into this world, this demented inn, in which there is absolutely no room for Him at all, Christ has come uninvited. But because He cannot be at home in it, because He is out of place in it, and yet He must be in it, His place is with those others for whom there is no room. His place is with those who do not belong, who are rejected by power because they are regarded as weak, those who are discredited, who are denied the status of persons, tortured, exterminated. With those for whom there is no room, Christ is present in this world. He is mysteriously present in those for whom there seems to be nothing but the world at its worst.”¹
Surrounded by the beauty of a night like tonight, it can be easy to forget that God chose to be born in a barn, to poor people, living in an occupied country. The son of God was born to those who didn’t belong, who didn’t have status, who didn’t matter.
But the people on the edges can’t forget, they hear the message loud and clear. The Shepherds got the news first. Angels greeted them on the hillsides. Outside the hubbub of the city. Outside the places of power and influences, the shepherds were the first to hear the Good New of Great Joy. That a savior has been born for them, a group of people on the margins, on the edges of society. People for whom there is no place, for them was born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.
It doesn’t take long to imagine who modern day shepherds might be.
People in refugee camps.
Minimum wage earners.
And I realize, that I’m pretty far down the list. Well educated, upper middle class white male clergy, are pretty unlikely to be visited by the angels. The heralds of glad tidings wouldn’t seek me out in my office, in the middle of the city, because there’s room for me. This world works for me and mine. I have access, and a voice, and influence. There’s a place for me in the inn.
So I wonder. Is this story for me too?
“Into this world, this demented inn, in which there is absolutely no room for Him at all, Christ has come uninvited.” This sanctuary might be warmer and little more magical than Dave’s City Motel or a barn, but Christ is present here, too. God chose to come to this world silently, simply, uninvited and unwelcome as a vulnerable, dependent baby. That move, motivated by a fierce, radical love, is not dependent on our ability to receive the Christ child. Rather, God’s coming in flesh obliterates any walls that we humans build. Christ’s love transcends any closed doors and city gates.
God’s love even has the power to break open our hearts. So that we might love differently, that we might live differently. There’s a Christmas carol that I haven’t always been real found of. We’re actually only singing one verse of it tonight for that reason. Pastors prerogative, don’t blame Maria. But in the few weeks since we planned tonight worship experience, the last verse has grown on me quite a bit, and I’ve been hearing it in a new way.
Because tonight, and every night, we have received the baby for whom there is no room.
O holy Child of Bethlehem
Descend to us, we pray
Cast out our sin and enter in
Be born to us today
We hear the Christmas angels
The great glad tidings tell
O come to us, abide with us
Our Lord Emmanuel.
¹Excerpt From: Thomas Merton. “Raids on the Unspeakable.” iBooks. https://itun.es/us/xSp4O.l