The Holy Gospel According to St. Luke, the 2nd Chapter
In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
There was no place for them in the inn. I’d always assumed that there was no place for them in the inn because of this census registration thing and all the rooms at the Bethlehem Motel 6 and every other hotel in town were taken. I’d always assumed that there was LITERALLY no room for them in the inn because every room was taken. But the story doesn’t actually tell us why, really. It COULD have been that every room was taken, but maybe it wasn’t that there was no room in the inn, but that there was no room for THEM in the inn. For their KIND, there was no room. They were different in lots of ways, after all.
They were from AWAY. They were poor. They were unmarried and she was pregnant. She was ready to give birth and that would mean a mess and extra laundry. She was also a revolutionary. She was. In just the last chapter, she gave a passionate protest speech about overthrowing the powerful, lifting up the lowly, filling the hungry with good things and sending the wealthy away empty.
So, was there no room in the inn? Or was there no room for THEM in the inn? Did they hear, “I’m sorry we’re fully booked for the night” or did they hear, “Go back to where you came from!?” I think there’s probably no way we’ll ever know for sure, but regardless of whether there was PHYSICALLY no room in the inn or if there was no room for THEM in the inn, what happened that night had the same result.
That night, God, the Creator of all that ever was, is now and of all that ever will be, decided to be born as a human in the same way that each and every one of us has been born. God was born that night in the regular, messy, beautiful, painful, glorious, human way. The Savior of World… God with us… was born as one of us regular folks… but God, the Creator of heaven and earth, was born without a place, without a home… like the carol says, “The Little Lord Jesus, no crib for his bed.” He was born into the straw and the dirt and into everything else that’s found in a barn. God came to the world and the world, basically, just didn’t notice.
When Martin Luther preached a Christmas sermon on this text five hundred years ago he said to his congregation, “Many of you in this congregation think to yourselves: “If only I had been there! How quick I would have been to help the baby! I would have even washed his dirty diapers!” You say that NOW, because you know now who that baby was and how great Christ is, but if you had been there THEN, you would have done no better than the people of Bethlehem. Childish and silly thoughts are these! Why don’t you do it now? You have Christ in your neighbor. You ought to serve your neighbor, for what you do to your neighbor in need, you do to the Lord Christ himself.”
The message of Christmas is that God has come into the world bringing light into our darkness, life into our death, healing into our brokenness… but the message of Christmas isn’t just that. The message of Christmas is that God has brought that light, life and healing to the world in a very particular way. God has brought, and is bringing, that light, life and healing from the bottom up. God brings all that FIRST to those who, like he was, are unwelcome and unnoticed in the world. THAT is where God shows up first… among those people from “away”… among THOSE folks who don’t fit what’s “proper” in society… among THOSE people who are relegated to the dung heap in the barn, demonized and marginalized and told to go back to where they came from.
God in Christ did something amazing that first Christmas… God came among us, as one of us, and in coming as one of us has scooped us up into God’s infinite, unconditional love… and God in Christ has done that, and IS DOING THAT even now, starting at the bottom, with the lost, lonely, forgotten, frightened and hated first and then moves from there to embrace all of creation. But a big part of the message of Christmas is that God in Christ starts with the ones for whom there is no place in the inn, and as followers of Jesus, that's where we're called to start as well. May we remember that. May we remember that God enters our world among the most gritty, forgotten, pushed aside and alienated people. May we remember, when we encounter THOSE people, that those are God’s people… Christ’s people… and when we take time to notice them... when we offer up a space for them... when we make a place for them in our neighborhoods and our hearts, we do nothing less than make a place there for God. Amen.