December 22, 2013 – Fourth Sunday of Advent

Luke 2:1-14

In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph 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. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was betrothed and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And 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.

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”

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Advent 4    Dec 22, 2013   (Ps 98, Isaiah 9:2-7, Matt 1: 18-25) Luke 2:1-14

No room at the inn

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Consider again the story… Try again to imagine…what it must be like to take a three-to-four-days-long, more-than-70-miles-long journey… from Nazareth, up in the far north of Israel, way down to Bethlehem in the south, all on foot. There’s no cars, trucks, trains, or bus, remember – and the bible actually never mentions a donkey, even… We hope the holy family had one for Mary to ride, but that’s just our hope…

There’s no such thing in those days as a hospital. And all the local inns are famously full – best we can do, sorry folks, is out in the barn – or more likely, on the floor of the house where the animals often lived. Homes usually consisted of one large room, with animals often kept indoors, at least at times, down at the lower end of the room.

And the Greek word we translate as “inn” (where there was no room) – means literally “lodging place” – public guest rooms where floor space would be   shared at busy times – like this time of compulsory tax registration – with many other travelers… and animals… all in one room together. Nothing even close to a Holiday Inn for the holy family….

And as we rejoin our story in progress… here’s Mary and Joseph, trying to find any kind of place at all where they can lay their weary heads.

And the bible says nothing about any midwife or nurse there to assist with the birth. (And as the song says:)

Once in royal David’s city stood a lowly cattle shed –

where a mother laid her baby – in a manger for his bed…

And the road to the holy birth of our Savior wasn’t easy…

The angel Gabriel had to do some serious explaining to Mary… about how she would become pregnant by the Holy Spirit… Which, in retrospect, may well have been  the least difficult part of the birth story…

Our reading from Matthew’s gospel today reminds us that her fiancee Joseph was ready to call the whole thing off quietly, when he got the news… And it took an angel speaking to Joseph in a dream, telling him, go ahead, marry your fiancee – telling Joseph in this holy dream – the child to be born is indeed from the Holy Spirit… It took at least a pair of high-level angelic intercessions to get blessed Mary and Joseph ready… to begin to receive the blessing…. of the birth of our Savior….

And when the time had fully come for our Savior to be born… I bet it took awhile  still… for Mary and Joseph to be able to fully appreciate the blessings of that holy day of birth.

I imagine quite probably it was only after baby Jesus was safely born, and wrapped in bands of cloth to keep him warm – probably only sometime later that day – (whether before or after shepherds had come and gone, I’ve no idea, but – )  I’m pretty sure sometime, later that same day… at last…. long loving smiles were exchanged between Mary and Joseph…. when they could finally sit back, and breathe deeply…. and hug their newborn child for a long time…Hug each other too…. and say from the heart… “thank you very much, dear God!”

Only then, later-that-same-day, probably, could they really begin to ponder… all they’d been through, together, on the way to this amazing holy birth.

A birth that’s still, to this day, absolutely mind-boggling…

How can our human minds really even begin to imagine – the Creator of the universe taking on human flesh, born as a little human child?

And – compounding this imponderable mystery further – carrying out this holy birth in the lowliest of circumstances…

(Again, as the song says: )

He came down to earth from heaven, who is God and Lord of all –

and his shelter was a stable, and his cradle was a stall.

With the poor, the scorned, the lowly – lived on earth our Savior holy.

Already, in the birth of Jesus… we see our Savior’s chosen path of downward mobility… Starting with no room… at the inn.

From his birth, Jesus takes up residency with the poor, the scorned, the lowly.

From the start, there’s no room in the inn… No room in the dwelling places of comfortable power and privilege… for our Savior to be born…

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Another of my favorite Christmas songs is Mahalia Jackson’s version of “No Room at the Inn”… She sings of no room at the inn as the pattern of rejection that still applies to Christ-followers… especially those who, by no choice of their own, are regarded as of little regard, in the eyes of the world… Starting with Mary herself… of whom Mahalia sings:

She was very sad I know – ‘Cause she had no place to go –

There was no room – Lord, no room… at the inn…

Her song then extends to include those at the margins and outskirts of today…

The barrel-boy and the porter….The waitress and the cook –

Will be witness one day in Heaven…. To tell the things Mary took…

She was driven… away…  And she had no place to stay…

There was no room – Lord, no room… at the inn

But the odd thing about the song… is how Mahalia’s version comes with a built-in swingingly upbeat accompaniment… featuring outstanding jazz musicians, including Lionel Hampton on vibraphones… making otherwise somber words of rejection… into a joyful anthem, as musicians rock the melody (you’ll have to imagine the vibraphones…) and the gospel singer sings –

Oh, there was no room – No room…. at the inn.

There was no room – No room… at the inn.

When the time had fully come…. For the Savior to be born…

There was no room – No room… at the inn…

Which reminds me of the Christmas message… I’ve been blessed to be a small part of this past week at Bourne Manor… Where, at our monthly worship service (with Connie Soper and Rebecca Hewett playing piano and singing)… we sang a verse or two of many a Christmas song… Residents, most of them in wheelchairs, singing joyfully along… In spite of all manner of ailments, in spite of being somewhere other than home, where they’d rather be… Still, raising voices in joyful song… One lady reminding me of Mahalia Jackson, adding enthusiastic “hallelujahs!” and “amens” frequently… as I preached a shorter version of this sermon… reminding me… sorrow and joy aren’t polar opposites…so much as interdependent seasons of the heart… like winter… and spring…

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From his birth… there’s no room at the inn of this earth for Jesus…

Yet from his birth there’s always abundance of joy… if we can hear it…

From his birth, there’s no room at the inn for Jesus and his family…

Except the room we make for him…here in our hearts, our lives, our communities of faith and love…

From the start… Our job as believers in Jesus has always been to make room for Jesus…here in this world that’s still in denial… of the implications of the holy birth…

(Even when we believe Jesus was indeed born in Bethlehem… we still often skip over the implications of the circumstances of his birth… And…)

Our job description is to be Christ’s own beloved community of care and love for all…Beloved community in which Jesus shares in all our sorrows and joys…And we share also in his…

When we join in Jesus’ story we share also in God’s holy sorrow… for this world’s rejection of Jesus and his love…

Yet when we trust in Jesus… we share all the more in his peace, his joy…

Joy, praying for one another… Joy, working together, joy sharing fellowship with each other…

When we follow Jesus we share with him in the deep, abiding peace of God’s gracious presence, with us….

When we join hearts, hands, and voices together in Christ… we find yet more joy… in this brief beautiful Christmas season….

Singing with each other and the angels in heaven…

Blessed, together, to be part of the Good News of Jesus our Lord and Savior… Telling his story, singing his song, for all to hear and join in…

Thanks be to God.      Amen.

(Let’s sing – Once in Royal David’s City – #250 )