Here’s an edited version of my Christmas Day sermon, shared this morning at Wellers Hill-Tarragindi Uniting Church, Brisbane, Australia. Christmas blessings, David
The innkeeper was used to saying ‘No’. He’d been saying ‘No’ all night. ‘No, you can’t get a room here tonight.’ ‘No, you can’t have more towels.’ ‘No, you can’t get another pudding.’
‘No, you can’t invite your mother-in-law and her whole family to share your room.’
‘No, no, no, no, NO!’
It had made him very grumpy.
In fact he was always grumpy. And then the doorbell went once more …
‘Oh no,’ he said. ‘Do they not know there is no more room?’ He swung open the door and was about to launch into his usual spiel about there being no room, when he hesitated and stuttered.
He was aware he was trying to say ‘No’ because he was so used to saying ‘No’ but this man looked so concerned and this woman was clearly about to have a baby, and his lips were moving in another direction and instead of ‘No’ he found himself saying ‘Yes’ and it surprised him how good that felt.
Mary and Joseph, who were the ones standing at the door, looked at each other, and then at the innkeeper and said, ‘But we haven’t asked you anything.’
The innkeeper just said, ‘Yes.’ ‘So you have room?’ asked Joseph. ‘Yes,’ said the innkeeper, who was feeling particularly good now. ‘For two of us and perhaps a baby?’ ‘Yes,’ said the innkeeper and a smile grew round his face. ‘In here?’ questioned Joseph. ‘Or round the back?’
‘Yes,’ said the innkeeper; he was positively beaming. ‘Which?’ asked Joseph. ‘Sorry,’ said the innkeeper coming out of his daze, ‘round the back.’
So he took them to a stable where it was warm, though the innkeeper’s smile was even warmer. And having let Mary and Joseph in, he stood by the door of the stable while Jesus was born, guarding it.
Later, as a bundle of shepherds arrived, asking to see the new baby, the innkeeper found himself saying only one thing: ‘Yes. Come in. There is room. There is always room.’
And such has been the way of all those caught up in the Christmas story: Mary, shepherds, Joseph, travellers, and now the innkeeper.
The answer to Christmas is ‘Yes’, and it changes everything. (Roddy Hamilton, Spill the Beans )
There’s something about the mystery, the wonder, the simplicity, the sheer joy of Emmanuel, God with us – that yes, we come back for more.
The incarnation, in all its mystery continues to speak for itself. God chooses to overturn all the perceived power structures and norms of the day … of any day … and comes among us … brings in God’s Kingdom reign among us … in the powerlessness, helplessness and vulnerability of a baby. God speaks truth to power and speaks it in a way that turns the world, the cosmos upside down. Truth in Jesus Christ, God’s Son, Saviour, Prince of Peace.
Luke’s account of the incarnation – Christ’s coming – it invites us to ponder hard on notions of hospitality, welcome and “un-welcome”
Famously, Luke says that Jesus was laid in a manger, because there was no room at the ‘inn’. Right there and then questions of Welcome, of inclusion, of exclusion appear on the radar.
Joseph and Mary are forced to travel to Bethlehem for a census and find themselves there as ‘outsiders’. There and then, Jesus’ birth is much more like that of a refugee in a transit camp than that of a lord or king.
You see, hospitality is part of our faith. We’re called to be hosts … welcomers, just as God is host to us. In Jesus, God welcomes all, strangers and friends, God’s love is strong (yet as real as a newborn baby) and it never, ever ends.
God welcomes all … but will we? Will we? We find again and again, that God is gracious but too often we are not. To appreciate this, we have only to reflect on the modern world, a world too easily displaying a hateful, fearful, far-from compassionate face. Rich countries like ours place endless barriers against the exiled and displaced finding shelter in their comfortable, wealthy communities.
When we reflect on Luke’s Christmas Account, we’re reminded how it’s shepherds who are the first people to receive the good news of Jesus’ birth.
The Old Testament repeatedly uses ‘shepherd’ as an image of God’s protectiveness and love. Go no further than Psalm 23 – The Lord is my shepherd.
However, it’s helpful to see these shepherds in another way. You see, the shepherds, well, they also represent outsiders. You see, they struggled to meet all the requirements of the Law, so they lived in close comfort with their animals in wilderness places. Many saw shepherds as unrighteous, as unclean. But not God!
In this amazing contrast of heavenly angelic glory and out in the nighttime fields earthiness – God calls these shepherds to the manger first. God, it seems, doesn’t call the obviously privileged, but those who are treated as oddities, outsiders.
At the centre of it all is Jesus, ‘a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord’ (v.11). And the signal this baby God sends is that while we struggle with hospitality and welcome, God is radically hospitable. It’s at the very heart of God.
Race, gender, social status, being on a glossy magazine’s “100 most beautiful list”, age, religion is irrelevant. In Jesus, God welcomes all.
And there at a Bethlehem cattle shed feed trough, as God in Jesus welcomes all, God calls from us – welcome, hospitality, embrace, inclusion. That’s what the King of the Universe calls from us: day-in, day out. How profound!
That’s what in so many ways Christmas brings to us; calls from us – calls from us hope, calls from us love, calls from us Peace, calls from us joy – in the welcome we offer – to friend and stranger alike. Friends, that’s what the world needs now – not a heart of hate or division, but hearts of love and welcome – hearts that beat in tune with Jesus. And beat with hope and joy!
Earlier this year, Pope Francis gave a TED talk. Yes – a TED talk. In it he called for a “revolution of tenderness”. He said that tenderness “means to use our eyes to see the other, our ears to hear the other, to listen to the children, the poor, those afraid of the future.”
year’s Christmas Bowl theme brings us back to all of that – that in welcoming … looking out for the one who is lost, hungry, homeless, sick, unwelcome – we indeed welcome Jesus himself. “A revolution of tenderness”.
Our Christmas Day offering later will go to Christmas Bowl’s work of Welcome and transformation.
The face of Christ continues to be found in the one who is sick, and in need of healing, or one who is hungry, and in need of sustenance.
We are here today, caught up in this Christmas story. We are here today as recipients of God’s “Yes” at a defining point in time – God’s “Yes” through Jesus.
God’s love has come close, became flesh and blood and moved into our neighbourhood … generous inside and out, from start to finish
(John 1:14 The Message)
Here’s what happens when hospitality and welcome and joy and community all come together in one Canadian apartment block neighbourhood. To those who’ve seen this previously, I just had to show it again.
Let’s go from here; bearers of God’s love – welcome, hospitable, caring, compassionate – out into our neighbourhoods, whatever they look like … wherever and with whoever they may be.
For we know a truth that is unlimited. Christ is born. Born among us; born to live, born to die, born to rise, born to transform our lives and the life of the world.
Let’s be God’s Welcome, God’s “Yes” – in Jesus.