Lord Jesus, you have caused this holy night to shine for you have come to us as the world s true light. Grant that we might see your light, that we might be drawn to your love, that we might show forth your light into all the world, that many might see you reflected in their lives. Babe of Bethlehem, Mary and Joseph s son, the one for whom there was no room at the inn, speak to us this glorious Christmas Day, be born again in our hearts, take form in our lives, redeem our humanity, making us your own. Lord, we thank you that, having tried to speak to us in so many ways down through the ages, you at last speak to us through your only Son, Jesus, who reigns this day and for ever. Amen.1
The other day I stood for a long time on the steps watching Marshall (my 6th grader) as he lay on the couch wearing his grimy but beloved LSU cap, arms and legs sprawled everywhere the way only an adolescent can. His feet are bigger than mine now and his frame practically fills the couch. I stood there remembering when not too long ago you could wrap him up in a blanket and fit all of him on less than one cushion. Watching him, I did as every parent does sooner or later, I marveled that there was ever a time when Marshall was so small I worried he might break if I held him too tightly. I remembered him as a tiny, pink bundle of squirming flesh that was so small my hands, by comparison, seemed much too large and out of proportion. As much as I love him now as a 12 year-old and Eliza at 9, there is a large part of me that will always carry them in my heart as the beautiful newborns I first beheld so many years ago.
Tonight we celebrate another newborn child and we remember when Mary and Joseph traveled so far from home only to have their first born son born in a manger. We celebrate the mystery unique to Christianity – that the all powerful God would stoop to come into this world as the helpless child of two peasant parents. The mystery that God loves us so much God is willing to literally place God s life into our hands. But tonight isn t just about remembering in the same way that I stood wistfully reminiscing about Marshall as a baby. No, tonight we not only celebrate Jesus birth more than 2000 years ago, we celebrate God s promise of hope that the Christ child is born again and again into our hearts and our lives if we will only make room for him.
Maybe you ve heard the story from the great Riverside Church in Manhattan that took place during their Christmas pageant one year. When they got to the part where the innkeeper turns Mary and Joseph away with that line: There s no room at the inn. the innkeeper was played that year by Tim, a young boy with Downs Syndrome. Tim had practiced his line over and over so he could get it just right. Well, the moment came. And there he was standing in front of the church as Mary and Joseph slowly made their way down the center aisle. They approached, knocked on the door, and said their lines. Tim s parents, the director, the whole audience, leaned forward almost willing Tim to remember his line. There s no room in the inn Tim boomed out perfectly. But then as Mary and Joseph turned on cue to travel further, Tim suddenly yelled, Wait! They stopped in their tracks and looked back at him in surprise. You can stay at my house, he told them.2
Do you and I have room for the baby Jesus in our lives, can he stay with us, or do we speak our lines on cue and turn him away? For me this night is all about hope. And I don t know about you, but right now I could use a little more hope. The hope that our lives can be different, our jobs, our relationships, our world, the hope that everything can be different if we learn to let Christ just a little further into our lives, if we can receive the Christ child as the great gift he is intended to be.
Do any of you remember the parable told by the philosopher Kierkegaard about a great king who fell in love with a lovely servant girl. He wanted to tell her of his love, but he wanted to approach her in a way in which she might freely, willingly love him. As a powerful king he was afraid he might overwhelm her, that she would fear him, respect him, even obey him. But that isn t what he wanted; he wanted her to love him. So he devised a plan. Taking off his royal robes and dressing as a poor peasant he slipped away from the palace and took up life in the village as a simple farmer. There he wooed the young woman. As a farmer, the king was no threat to the servant girl and as they got to know one another she grew to love him. Eventually they married and when the king revealed his true identity his status was no barrier between them because they had found love and it was love that held them together.
The hope of this night is that God has come to us as a babe in the manger so that we might fall in love with the divine. God has come to woo us, not just long ago in a stable in Jerusalem but this very night as well. God has come to show us something of God as God really is. Do we welcome him? Do we open our hearts and our lives to receive him? If we do, then we have to allow the incarnate Word to become incarnate in our lives, to literally adopt this baby as our own.
A child once said: I wish I had a picture of God. This is exactly what we are granted in the birth of Jesus. God has shown us his face. And so, as you leave the church tonight take the Christ child with you. Take his humility and make it your own. Learn to be more patient, more open, more understanding and more forgiving of others in your life. Take his life of service with you as well. Learn to take less from others; learn to give more of yourself without the thought of getting anything in return. And finally take his love and let God s love for you become the source of your love for one another. May we all this Christmastide find the Christ child again and again, and bring him afresh into our Jesus-starved world. Because he is needed now more than ever. Amen.
1 William H. Willimon
2 Marian Wright Edelman, Still No Room In the Inn.