Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Making room for Jesus


Steve Brown, a minister, remembers seeing a car one day while driving home that was the ugliest car he had ever seen. This car wasn't just ugly – it was ugly on top of ugly. The car’s side had a large gash; one of the doors was held together with wire; and several other body parts were almost completely rusted out. The car's muffler was so loose that with every bump, it hit the street, sending sparks flying. He couldn't tell the car’s original color. Rust had eaten away much of the paint, and so lots of the car had been painted over with so many different colors that any one of them (or none of them) could have been the original. Dirt and duct tape seemed to be holding the vehicle together. The most interesting thing about the car was a bumper sticker that read, in capital letters, "THIS IS NOT AN ABANDONED CAR."[1]

The meaning of Christmas, this year and every year, is that in the birth of Jesus of Nazareth God sent a message of hope to an ugly, broken, hurting world: This is not an abandoned world.

When I hear people speak of the magic of Christmas, I am both bemused and saddened because Christmas has no magic. There are no incantations or rituals by which a person, not even a priest or bishop, can summon angels or the Holy Spirit to set life right, heal the hurting and broken, or bring peace to the world.

Instead, Christmas points to a deep mystery. No matter how bad life gets, and some of you like me, know that our individual lives can become pretty awful, and many of us are deeply distraught because of social ills we face daily, including wars on five continents, Ebola, house-lessness, racism, misogyny – no matter how bad or ugly life gets, God never abandons us. In some mysterious way, God’s love causes life to triumph over death, never abandoning us or our world.

Peace Community Church in Rosaria, Argentina, is an intimate faith community. Their worship center, in a repurposed neighborhood house, accommodates only 60 people.

One year, Peace Community obtained permission to close off the street on which the church is located to produce an outdoor Christmas pageant. The congregation arranged the worship center chairs in the street, facing the church building. They placed a loud speaker on the roof, so people could hear recorded music and the children’s dialogue.

Late December is summer in the southern hemisphere, and the evening of the pageant was very pleasant and warm. Neighbors filled the seats and the street.

Youth and children from the church – dressed as shepherds or wise men or the innkeeper and, of course, as Mary and Joseph – were to reenact the events of Jesus’ birth. The babe was a doll dressed in swaddling clothes. A real donkey was to carry “Mary” to the church. The church’s front door served as the inn. Facundo, a 12-year-old boy, played the innkeeper. He was the sexton’s son and lived in the rear of the property. While tall for his age, he had a gentle spirit.

Joseph, following the script, led the donkey carrying Mary, stopped in front of the “inn,” and knocked. Facundo opened the door and stood in the doorway. Seeing the donkey and Mary sitting on it, his eyes grew big.

Joseph asked for a room. Facundo kept staring at Mary on the donkey said nothing. One could hear the audience’s soft, nervous laughter. A prompter behind the church door softly repeated Facundo’s line. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, Facundo spoke his line, “There is no room in the inn.”

Joseph insisted. “But we have come from a long journey, and my wife is due to have a baby.”

Facundo looked at the donkey and he looked at Mary. The prompter whispered his line once again from the other side of the door. “There is no room in the inn,” repeated Facundo, this time with hesitancy. He stood in the doorway watching. Joseph insisted again. “We are so tired; do you know anywhere we can stay?”

This was Facundo’s cue to tell them they could stay in the stable. He looked at the donkey and at Mary and Joseph. The prompter softly said Facundo’s line. Again, the audience murmured nervously. Again, the prompter repeated the line.

Facundo stood still, staring at the couple. Then he blurted out, “You can have my room!” pointing to the rear of the church property. Shocked, cast and audience were silent. Joseph just looked at Facundo in bewilderment. It wasn’t supposed to have gone this way. He should have sent Mary and Joseph to the end of the sidewalk in front of the church, where a “stable” was prepared for them.

Finally, Mary broke the ice. “Okay,” she said. “That’s really nice of you.” She dismounted from the donkey. The caretaker led the donkey away, and Joseph and Mary entered the door of the inn to stay in Facundo’s room.

The audience burst into applause. The children took their bows. The pageant couldn’t have been scripted any better. Facundo stole the show and the hearts of the neighborhood. He had captured the meaning of Christmas, because he made room for the Christ Child in his life.[2]

What if the innkeeper had told the holy family that they could have his room?

What if we tell the Christ to fill our hearts?

Confident that God has not abandoned the world, may we, like Facundo, enter into the mystery of God’s loving, life-giving presence by welcoming the Christ Child into our hearts and homes. Amen.

Sermon preached Christmas Eve 2018, Parish of St. Clement, Honolulu, HI



[1] Adapted from Overcoming Setbacks (Colorado Springs: Navpress, 1992), p. 62.

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