Unity Lutheran Church
24 December 2019 + Nativity of Our Lord
Rev. Josh Evans, preaching
How did I wind up with so much stuff? Said anyone who has ever moved – and especially so when downsizing. Seriously: how did I wind up with so much stuff? I even got rid of a bunch of stuff before I moved here from Chicago last year…I mean, how much stuff can a single 30-year-old with no kids possibly acquire? A lot, apparently!
I know I’m not alone here, either. It seems like we all have so much stuff there’s no room for it all. After all, we live in a hyper-materialistic culture, and most of us live pretty privileged, comfortable lives.
This time of year doesn’t make things any easier, either – with the pressure to buy more and to give more and to find the “perfect” gift for everyone on our lists. Tonight or tomorrow, or perhaps still later this week, many of us will open gifts we don’t necessarily need or, in some cases, even want. We already have so much stuff…we have no room for more.
Beyond the gifts and physical stuff, many of us have had no room on our schedules for days or weeks – with all the demands of holiday parties, and shopping, and wrapping, and baking, and decorating, and church programs. So much competes for our time and energy…and we try to fit it all in. But…there’s just…no room.
It feels like this is a season of no room. There’s no room for stillness, for surprise, for beholding mystery, for contemplating the wonder of the season.
There was no room for them in the inn. This night, before the wondrous birth, before the herald angels, before the fearful shepherds, there was a couple from Nazareth. Theirs was no romantic honeymoon. Theirs was a perilous journey before it even began: an unwed, pregnant teenage girl and a fiancé whose own social honor was at risk by mere association. Theirs was a journey without the guarantee of safe lodging at their destination, let alone a decent place to give birth. I suspect this young family looked a little more like this. Not unlike the residents of Milwaukee’s “tent city,” which I pass by regularly on my way home, those who call the precarious shelter of the 794 overpass “home.” These are those for whom society has no room. Relegated to makeshift housing, if any at all…a stable where Mary would lay her son in a feeding trough for animals. Because there was no room for them in the inn.
We live in a world of no room. There’s no room for our siblings who are homeless and hungry. There’s no room for those seeking refuge and asylum from the violence of their homelands. In many churches, there’s no room for people who look or love or believe differently than what is considered “normal” or “acceptable.” In our political discourse, there’s no room for people who vote differently than us. In a holiday season that’s all about “good news of great joy,” there’s no room for those who grieve or experience loss, anxiety, or depression.
But it is precisely to those for whom there is no room that Christ comes this night to make room. Those who experience no room are in good company with the Christ for whom there was no room in Bethlehem. Indeed, the Christ that this world had no room for is the Christ who comes to make room for all.
The baby born among the animals in a dirty stable in Bethlehem would go on to minister to those at the very outskirts of society, to make room for those who have been told there is no room and no place for them. The baby born this night is the one who would go on to cast out demons, to cleanse those with leprosy, to dine with tax collectors and sinners, to feed the hungry, and to hang out with women and Samaritans. This is the one whose mother prophesied would lift up the lowly and fill the hungry with good things. This is the one who would declare in his hometown synagogue his mission to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives, and to let the oppressed go free. This Christ for whom Bethlehem had no room declares: There is room for all!
The late Trappist monk Thomas Merton has famously written:
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…discredited…denied the status of persons…With those for whom there is no room, Christ is present in this world.
Dear people of God: Because of this holy night and this holy birth, the tables are turned, and the world is turned upside-down: Those who have been told there is no room for them have a place in God’s kingdom, in our pews, at Christ’s table.
For you who have been overlooked or cast out, there is room for you here. For you who are overburdened by work or worry, there is room for you here. For you who grieve or weep this night, there is room for you here. For you who have been told you don’t belong, there is room for you here. There is room for you here because Christ makes room for you here.
Into this season of no room, Christ comes to make room. To make room for joy where there is sadness. To make room for hope where there is despair. To make room for love and reconciliation where there is hatred and violence. To make room for wonder and mystery at the goodness of God who makes room for us. Oh come, let us adore him! Joy to the world, for God is here. And there is always more room.
Thanks be to God!
Image Credit: “José y María” by Everett Patterson