Isaiah 9: 1-6; Luke 2: 1-14
Luke, who gives us this great Christmas story every year, may go down as one of the greatest story tellers of all the writers of Scripture. That poses a problem for me as a preacher and for all of us as listeners, especially on Christmas, because we love this story and many like it and we know it so well that it’s hard to glean anything new out of it. Yet, the story tells us something not only about who Luke is but also his community that he writes to and even to us some 2000 years later. Rather than us telling Christmas what it’s supposed to be, the story is here to tell us who and what we’re supposed to be, right now in this moment.
Luke was an outsider. He was a Gentile with most likely Greek origin and so he knows what it’s like to be on the outside looking in. So when we hear this story, we encounter a motley crew, like none other in the gospels, of outsiders, in one way or another, open to the word of God breaking into their lives. Mary and Joseph…outsiders and will prove so as the story unfolds and begins to heat up. Here they are the poorest of the poor, transients, refugees on the run from an occupied country and an oppressive ruler in Herod. The shepherds…outsiders. They were one of the most hated of groups, considered thieves and robbers. All points us to that if God’s going to make a bold move, a divine gut-punch, it’s going to happen beyond the borders and the comforts of the inside. It’s his story, Luke’s, and it’s ours.
Of course, much theology has been written about all these characters. Why shepherds. Why the manger and swaddling clothes. And we can go off theologically. But it’s hard to believe that that was the intention of Luke in writing these stories and it’s what we have become accustomed to hearing on Christmas. But is that it? Was it really Luke’s intention of writing some theological discourse? Again, maybe it says more about him and his community and us today. Why no room in the inn? It seems like a rather odd inclusion in the story of these vagabonds as they make their way to Bethlehem. Or is this all the point? Where would there be the least amount of room and space for this new born babe than in the commercial establishment which demands something more than comfort, safety, and security for this child. There is no room in the inn. There is no room in the inn for the outsiders, no room on the inside which has become to close and boxed in for their own self-interest that there’s not even space for a child, a newborn.
This is Christmas. It’s messy and complicated. It challenges us the way in which we live our lives and who we have space for in the busyness of our own lives. If it’s not challenging us, then most likely we’re still telling Christmas what it’s supposed to be rather than it informing us of our truest identity. This all becomes about reminiscing and being nostalgic about Christmas’ gone by rather than a life-changing event. Maybe that’s not what we want. There are implications with this birth and for anyone that encounters him. Luke knows that. Mary and Joseph face tremendous implications by their yes to the birth of the Lord. How do the shepherds continue on living the life they lived after this encounter? Mary and Joseph will quickly flee, refugees that they are, no room in the inn, lying in a manger, finding strength where they’d least expect it. There are implications in our own lives if we allow this feast to inform our lives…and we can never go back to what was. It won’t feel right. It won’t feel like enough. The birth of Christ in our lives, in our hearts, fundamentally changes our world and our perspective. And maybe that’s the point.
There is a place for reminiscing and being all nostalgic over the holiday and many of us will do that these days ahead, but that’s not what this is all about. That has a way of sucking us in, leaving us depressed, lost in our grief, failed expectations. And it will happen because that’s real. What else is real is the darkness that Isaiah speaks of when the great light appears. It’s doesn’t eliminate the darkness, it begins to change the lens and how we see the darkness. The darkness we see no longer defines us but rather the light. That is what makes this cast of characters different and how we’re called to be different in this world. We face much darkness and we can become consumed by it. Like Mary and Joseph, we have people fleeing occupied countries. We have indescribable poverty, even among babies like Jesus was that day. We have tremendous war and violence here in this city and beyond. Darkness is real and I can allow it to define me. But what makes them different? They see it differently and it’s the greatest implication for all of us in allowing this story to inform our lives. They have found and given birth to the Christ within and now see the darkness through the eyes of the Christ child, through the eyes of Love.
That is what this is all about. Again, otherwise we reminisce and get all nostalgic and go about our business on the 26th, unchanged, and once again, no room in the inn. We have moved ourselves so far on the inside that we forget what it’s like to be on the outside looking in. Luke and his wonderful story telling through the birth of Jesus reminds us that this is not just the story of a birth that took place some 2000 years ago. Rather, it’s his story and the story of his community. It’s my story and your story and God wants to do something with us today. This crew of outsiders is constantly being pushed to their own limits and over and over again, learning to trust the Christ child within that sheds light on such darkness, that shows love rather than violence and fear. That’s why they were such a threat; they had found the Christ within and death and fear no longer had its grip! This is what Christmas is all about. Are we open to hearing it differently and recognizing that we too are these refugees, seeking the Christ child. Maybe there’s no room in the inn, but in the recesses of our vulnerable hearts, wrapped in swaddling clothes, lies a child that cries out to love and to be loved, informing our lives in and through the Love that has been born and gives birth in our lives.