Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas Sermon


St Paul's Cathedral

As you might imagine, with the job I have, I spend forty or fifty nights per year in hotels or conference centers. From this experience, I have developed certain preferences for particular hotel brand names, and Sue Spring, our Diocesan Administrator, is aware of these preferences. One of the reasons, of course, is the loyalty reward programs that the various chains have, where I have earned Silver status in one of them, so I get a little bit of VIP treatment and two free bottles of cold water when I check in, and just a general feeling that I’m sort of club member rather than just a hotel customer—it’s the small things that count!

So, one Saturday night a couple of months ago, I pulled into the parking lot of my preferred hotel chain in one of the towns in our diocese, a place where I had already stayed a couple of times before, and, just to be sure, pulled out my smartphone to have the confirmation number of my reservation ready if I needed it. To my surprise, and more than a little bit to my annoyance, I saw that my reservation that night was at another hotel, not my preferred chain, and not even the runner-up. What gives? Then I remembered that Sue had warned me about this when she made the reservation: my preferred hotel was fully booked that night. My Silver status did me no good. Somebody else was enjoying my room and my two free bottles of water. There was simply … no room in the inn.

On Christmas, of course, we realize—that’s a very old problem. No room in the inn. Joseph and Mary didn’t have the luxury of an internet connection by which to make a reservation. They didn’t have a cell phone on which they could call ahead as they were approaching Bethlehem. There were no nationally franchised establishments with loyalty reward programs and familiar logos displayed in bright lights visible from the road. They had to walk around town and knock on doors, and everywhere the answer was the same: no vacancy, no room in the inn. So Jesus—the Word made flesh, the infinite made finite, the salvation of Israel, the Desire of nations, the hope of the human race—Jesus . . . was born in a barn. It looked like a barn. It was cold like a barn. It smelled like a barn. It wasn’t a place any woman would want to give birth.

Now this is where it becomes very plain that a preacher’s job is often to state the obvious, because you don’t need me to take the metaphor of “no room in the inn” and apply it to Springfield, Illinois in 2012. The purpose of liturgical time—the reason we keep feasts like Christmas or Easter or Pentecost or…St Swithun’s Day—is to provide a port of entry through which we may —if we are willing, if we dare—a point of entry through which we may enter the mystery of God’s dealings, God’s purpose, God’s ongoing project of saving us from ourselves and reconciling us to Him, of enabling us to experience human life as it was meant to be lived, of liberating us from fear, anxiety, evil, and death. So Christmas, in particular, offers us the opportunity to enter into the joyful mystery of God pitching His tent in our campground. This is the most central affirmation of Christian faith.” God is one of us. Let me introduce you to him. His name is Jesus. He was born in a barn, because there was no room in the inn.

So it’s Christmas, and we’re here to celebrate the mystery of God being one of us, and because we’re not in real time, but in that crazy realm known as liturgical time, church time, Joseph and Mary are knocking on our door. She needs to give birth, and they want to know if we have any room for them. As we return to our warm and well-lit and clean-smelling homes tonight, may we take a moment to remember those who are living on the streets of this city, and ask ourselves what we have done to make room for them? Do we have any room for Jesus?

Joseph and Mary are knocking on our door. She needs to give birth, and they want to know if we have any room for them. As we examine our consciences, and acknowledge the conflicts of our lives—the shortcomings, the inadequacies, the overblown ego that masks a desperately low self-image, our remorse for stupid and hurtful things we’ve said and done—may we ask ourselves, Why are we not tapping into the flowing stream of forgiving and healing love that God is sending our way? Do we have any room for Jesus?

Joseph and Mary are knocking on our door. She needs to give birth, and they want to know if we have any room for them. As we examine our priorities for the coming year, as we make our work and school and vacation plans, may we ask ourselves, What is keeping us from making a commitment to being with the Lord’s own people in the Lord’s own house on Sunday, the Lord’s own day, as a matter of routine, as a matter of habit, as a matter of discipline, as a matter of joy, as a matter of life and death, ultimately? Do we have any room for Jesus?

Joseph and Mary are knocking on our door. She needs to give birth, and they want to know if we have any room for them. As we look at the moral and ethical decisions we are confronted with—either every day or from time to time—as we consider our sense of right and wrong that is so easily dulled, so easily corrupted, so easily rationalized into conformity with our “default mode” of living, our pre-existing prejudices, the values of the surrounding culture, may we ask ourselves, What is hindering us from offering our minds and our wills completely to the one who is the way, the truth, and the life? Do we have any room for Jesus?

In just a week’s time, many of us will be making New Year’s resolutions. Though they are often broken before the last whistle blows in the Rose Bowl, it is still a good thing for us to do. I would invite you, however, to begin the process early. I would invite you to resolve, during 2013, to put your “No Vacancy” sign in deep storage. I would invite you to welcome Joseph and Mary into your life, to give them room in the inn, to allow Jesus to be born in you. I’m afraid to say it, but in most cases, the condition of our hearts resembles that of … well … a barn. But that’s OK, isn’t it? Do you have room for Jesus?
Amen.

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