Sermon: No Room For God
Scripture: Luke 2:4-7
Date: July 29, 2018
Our hope for this Christmas in July Emphasis was that by unplugging Christmas, by taking our Christmas celebration out of the bright lights and rush of December, we could take a hard look at Charlie Brown’s question, What is Christmas all about? And this morning, as we prepare to come to the manger with our gifts for Jesus, I wanted to think about one phrase that almost seems like an afterthought in Luke’s telling but I really think is the key to understanding what Christmas is all about. Look again at what Luke says in verse 7: She wrapped Him in cloths and placed Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. You see, what Luke is telling us is that the God of creation, who was rejected by Adam and Eve in the Garden, after centuries of separation and continued rejection, decided to come back to earth as one of us. And what happened – there was no room for him. John describes Christmas this way as he begins his Gospel. The true light that gives light to every person was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through Him, the world did not recognize Him. He came to His own people, but they rejected Him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God. If we look carefully at the way scripture unfolds the story of Jesus’ birth and life, seemingly at every turn Jesus was told that there was no room for Him. No room for Him by those who knew and upheld the Jewish Law. No room for Him in the church. No room for Him in his hometown. All they understood was that Mary was pregnant without a husband and the law prescribed that she be stoned to death (and the unborn child within her) for her presumed sin. Twice their condemnation caused her to flee during her pregnancy: first to the hill country to see her cousin Elizabeth and then to go with Joseph to Bethlehem to be counted in the census. She didn’t have to go. The only people that were counted were the men, but Mary knew that there was no room for them in the hearts of Nazareth. Even Joseph at first got so caught up in the law that he nearly had no room in his heart for Mary. And when they got to the inn, the innkeeper merely put into words what seemingly everyone else was thinking, “there is no room for you here.” What is Christmas all about, Charlie Brown? It was and is about the miracle of a God whose greatest desire is to be present with us, to be present in our lives, even among those who struggle to make room for Him.
Now historians tell us, that Innkeepers, in spite of how they are portrayed in our Christmas pageants, were usually pretty disreputable characters, offering filthy and often overcrowded accommodations to the highest bidder. Probably the truth is that he took one look at these homeless travelers and determined that they would not be able to pay much and so he rejected them. “No room for you here” and so they were forced to find whatever shelter they could, so that Mary could have her baby. There’s no telling how many times that they were told that there was no room for them in Bethlehem, before they settled for a cave that was used to shelter animals. You see, when we plug in Christmas, we tend to sanitize the story and so Bethlehem which was teeming with strangers already angry at having to make the trip becomes the peaceful little town, how still we see thee lie. And the stable becomes warm and dry, with fresh hay for a bed, a perfectly acceptable alternative to a place in the inn. But when we unplug Christmas, I suspect we’ll see Bethlehem more as a place of rejection and danger for Mary and Joseph and their baby. And so, the biggest miracle of Christmas then and now is that in spite of our continued rejection, our continued refusal to make room for God in our lives, He still comes. He still wants to be present in our lives. And His presence transforms everything. That even though there are times when our celebration of Christmas leaves little room for Jesus, He never stops coming for us and to us. Even though humanity refuses to make room for Him, God still comes again and again and again. That in the end Christmas is all about our making room for Jesus in our hearts and in our lives. He wants to be born in you and me. When we strip away all of the lights and decorations and parties and pageants that are part of our Christmas celebration, we discover that Christmas in God’s ultimate plan is about the promise that no matter what, God’s deepest desire is to be present with and in each one of us.
Christmas is the promise that God is with us no matter what may come, if we will make room for Him. So, let me ask you a question, how many of you send out one of those Christmas letters with your Christmas cards? Some people have a real talent for capturing a year’s worth of family news in just a few paragraphs and still keep it light and fun. But sometimes these letters take a more serious tone, and when they do they often speak about what Christmas is all about. Like this one from a lady who had lost her husband in the prior year and was facing her first Christmas without him. And so rather than the usual Christmas letter fare, she wrote openly about the pain and sorrow and loneliness she was experiencing. Now I wonder about many things. I wonder, how can it be that he who is gone somehow continues to live and minister to me and the children? I wonder, how is it that in the midst of heartache I have found God and the power to keep going? I wonder, how is it that as a result of this tragedy, old friendships are deepened and new ones formed. And then she ended the letter with these words. Christmas is the promise that God can be trusted to meet all our needs and to meet them in ways that we would never imagine. Some say that this first Christmas without my husband will be very painful. That perhaps I should just skip it. And probably it will be. But I know this: Without Christmas, without Jesus, my life would be impossible.” The older I get the more I am finding assurance in Christ’s words to His Disciples “Abide in me and I will abide in you. And I will be with you always. Christmas is the promise that for those who make room for Him, God will be present no matter what may come. That’s what Christmas is all about.
And secondly, Christmas is all about the hope that the God who comes to be present with us will never desert us. Our hope comes in the promise of God’s presence. The story of the boys soccer team in Thailand is a reminder of God’s enduring hope even when all around looks hopeless. That’s what Christmas is all about.
I read the story of a POW in the Vietnam war that survived a long period of captivity under brutal conditions when many of his fellow prisoners did not. And he was asked why he thought he survived when so many others did not. And he said, “They stripped me of all my possessions except my Gideon New Testament. So I let go of my current circumstances no matter how painful and awful they became, and I retreated into God’s presence and I never lost hope that I would be set free. Those who didn’t survive lost hope.” Imagine the hopelessness that came upon those boys on the soccer team, as one day of entrapment in the complete darkness of that cave turned into many days and then weeks. No food. The only water that was safe to drink was that which dripped from the roof of the cave. No light. Oxygen running low. And then the euphoria when the first diver navigated the maze of the caves and emerged from the black waters. Hope had arrived. Where there is hope, miracles happen. The Jews of 4 BC were people without hope. Isaiah described them as people who walked in darkness. And so God decided the time had come. And after centuries of struggle, just when it seemed all was lost, Hope was born in a tiny stable in an obscure little village, and the miracles began. The presence of God assures us that there is always hope, no matter what circumstances we may be facing in our lives. That’s what Christmas is all about.
And finally, Christmas affirms the church as the instrument God uses for His presence to be made manifest in the world. Scripture proclaims that Christ came for the church. In spite of its many flaws, Christ loved the church and never missed an opportunity to be present. When He was just eight days old, Joseph took him to the Bethlehem synagogue and had the Rabbi circumcIse Jesus and he gave Him his name. When He was six weeks old< Mary and Joseph took Him to the Temple for the first time for the ceremony known as the redemption of the first born in which they acknowledged that God had delivered Israel from captivity and dedicated their first born son to God to honor God’s presence with their forefathers. When He was twelve Mary and Joseph made the pilgrimage to the Temple for Jesus coming of age ceremony, which Jesus regarded as His Homecoming. Scripture is clear that there is not much of Jesus life and ministry that did not involve the church. He taught in the Temple. He observed the sacred feasts in the Temple. And he called on His Disciples to be the church. “You are Peter. And because of your Faith I will build my church in you.” And as He made His way to the Cross Jesus went to the Temple and through His cleansing He initiated the redemption of the church which culminated on the cross when He looked at the priests at the foot of the cross and prayed that God would forgive the church. We can not separate Christ’s presence from the church and the truth is that those of us who have no room for the church in our lives, have no room for Jesus. The birth of Jesus gave rebirth to His church. The Manger requires that we, each one of us, make room for Jesus. That we invite the presence of God to come and be present in our individual lives though often the way we celebrate Christmas leaves little room for Christ to even be a part of His birthday party. Christmas unplugged gives us the chance to reflect on the ways that God is present in us, but also those parts of our life where consciously or unconsciously we leave no room for a savior. The parts of our lives that we refuse to bring to the Manger. That we withhold for ourselves or the world. In what ways do you say to God there is no room for Him in your life. Is there room for Him in your job or career? School? Relationships? Abilities? Resources? Because the truth is that if there are parts of your life in which you shut Jesus out, you don’t understand God’s intentions at Christmas. Jesus was born to redeem all of our lives, not just those areas that we choose to let him in. By sending Jesus, God was saying “I’m all in in this relationship, and He expects the same from shepherds, and Kings and from you and from me. No matter who we are and where we come from or the circumstances that cause us to come, to take our place in the Christmas story, we need to be all in. In everything we are and do, we must make room for Jesus. Jesus was born in order that God could be present with humanity for eternity. So what do you need to do to make room for Jesus in your life. And there must be room in the church for Jesus. Now that may sound a little odd but consider that the church in Jesus Day was all about law and ritual, many that were exclusive rather than inclusive. There are so many things we do, so many attitudes we hold that proclaim to the world that there is no room here for you. The very barriers to God’s presence that Jesus was born to break down, to crush, become the barriers we erect to keep all people from coming to the manger. Jesus was born in order to crush sin, and prejudice and apathy and hatred. Jesus’s coming was God’s way of saying make way for my presence in your life, make way for forgiveness, make way for grace, make way for unconditional love, make way for me to be present in everything you do and are. Because with the birth of Jesus we too are reborn, recreated. Make room for Him to transform your life. The birth of Jesus is God’s invitation to let Him in, to be reborn ourselves. Because the true miracle of Christmas is not that we come to the Manger but that Jesus comes to us and takes up residence in our life. If we will let Him in. We have designated this Miracle Sunday as we respond to the miracles that God works in our lives because of Christmas. But the truth is that for all those who make room for Jesus, every day is a day of miracles because Christ is present in our lives. This morning the manger beckons us to come and let Jesus the Son of God into our lives. Will you make room for Him today? Let’s celebrate the miracle of His presence this morning as we come to the manger. Let’s praise Him for all that He is doing in our lives and our church and this community through this church. Let’s celebrate Emmanuel. God with us forever and ever because of Christmas. That’s what Christmas is all about.