Scripture Readings: Luke 2.1-20
In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.
‘…there was no room for them to stay in the inn’.
Those last words of the first part of our Bible reading tonight are terrible words. There is no room at the inn for a woman, who has travelled a long way, and who is about to give birth. No room for her faithful husband, who has come all from Nazareth with her, because the Emperor Augustus demanded it. No room for the child who is born, not even a place to lay him- just an animal feeding trough.
It’s nice to romanticise the Christmas story. We like to imagine Mary might have had a donkey to ride, but the story doesn’t mention any little donkey for Mary to ride along dusty roads. We like to imagine the baby snug in the straw, but a manger is hardly the cleanest place to put a new-born child. We like to imagine animals kneeling to worship, but if there were any animals at the back of the inn, they were likely grumpy at being disturbed, smelly, liable to bump into the new mum and dad and their baby at any time.
‘…there was no room for them to stay in the inn’.
Here is the creator of the universe coming to earth in human form. But there is no room for him. He is laid in a manger- no nice government Scandinavian baby box for Jesus and Mary. He is shoved round the back for the inn is full up.
But maybe that is the point. No room at the inn tells us that this Christ is going to be the one for all for whom there is no room. For in any country, in any community, there are people who feel as if there is no room for them. The people for whom the rest of us are too heartless to make any room.
No room for the rough sleeper, who for whatever reasons, we can’t find a place for anywhere. No room for the families with children who we cannot seem to find houses for, just bed and breakfast accommodation. No room any more for the immigrants from the European Union, who came here to make a home and contribute to society, but who are now made to feel unwelcome in a country they had called home. No room for the refugees, traumatized by war and dangerous journeys, treated as a threat by many people when they thought Britain would be a safe place to come to. No room at the inn for them, and for many others who need a place to stay, because we will not make room for them.
In the Christmas story, the Christ child is one of those for whom there is no room. In the Christmas stories of Matthew’s Gospel, this becomes even more the case. That’s the version with King Herod murdering all the children in the town of Bethlehem, causing Mary and Joseph to flee into Egypt until it is safe to return- so Jesus spends the first few years of his life a refugee in a foreign country. And as he grows, he will always be an outsider. His preaching upsets the religious establishment. He isn’t a Pharisee, or a Sadducee- he doesn’t fit into any party. Eventually, he becomes the ultimate outsider- a criminal, executed because he seems like a danger to the peace. There was no room for him.
In Christ, God identifies with all find themselves as outsiders- those for whom there seems to be no room for them. And so Christmas is a time for us not just to celebrate, but to be challenged. Are there people we have no room for, people we send into the shed, while we are cosy and comfortable in the inn? Can’t we treat other fellow humans better than that? And why do we treat them as a burden anyway? What if the stranger, the homeless, the refugee, the immigrant are not threats to us, but gifts to us. People whom we can get to know, who will bring us new ideas and experiences, who will bring much to the places they have travelled to?
And when God comes to us- do we make room? This is the point at which we preachers make an appeal to you to make some room in your lives for Christ this Christmas. And preachers complain that our increasingly secular culture, and our increasingly busy lives, people squeezing God out- you’re not making room for God. But, in fairness, it’s hard. We are not living in an age or a place which takes God seriously. We don’t talk about God much, we pretend that we think the concept of God is no longer important for art, culture, politics and morality. God really is an outsider now- strange, troubling, and often unwelcome.
And yet- in our culture, where we will not make room for the God who was born in a stable, is it any wonder that hatred and abuse towards those who are different from the majority is on the increase? In a world in which the God of Jesus Christ is pushed out, is it any wonder we have to fact check what our politicians say? In a world which has forgotten the Christian Christmas story, is it any wonder that greed, excess, selfishness and hatred seems to be squeezing out love?
At Bethlehem, God came to us from glory, before time and space, eternal and almighty- but born in a stable, for there is no room for him in the inn. And the One for whom there was no room at the inn is bound to ask us- what about the people today for whom there is no room? What are you doing for them? Do you even think about them? And- this is the really hard part- are you willing to give up some of your comfort to make room for them?
And so, in a way, the coming of Christ is a judgement on us, and our selfishness, and our lack of love. But Christmas is primarily a gift to us, if we will let it be so. For surely only a God who loves us dearly would go to the trouble of coming among us, sharing our joys and sorrows, living and dying as we do? And the good news is that the Christ who was born and lived and died among us also rose from the grave. He came as an outsider, and we often make no room for him. Yet he offers us the greatest Christmas present of all time: forgiveness, a new start, and a faith to live our lives by. And a message of love- love for our neighbours, whoever they may be. Love for those we think of as strangers, love, even, for our enemies.
Because at Christmas, God offers our broken, frightened, suspicious world the gift of love. Into our dark world, when we do not deserve it, has come light, in the form of the free gift of the child in the manger. He offers us God’s grace and love, but also the gift of being able to love other people. This Christmas, will you let God’s love flow through you, to those who really need it? For in our dark world, where the forces of evil are so prevalent, we need some love, love which will shine like light in the darkness.
Ascription of Praise
Glory to God in highest heaven,
and on earth peace to all in whom God delights!
Luke 2.14 (alt)
Biblical references from the Good News Bible, unless otherwise stated
© 2019 Peter W Nimmo