December 24, 2023
You may not want to know this but there are currently no more shopping days left until Christmas. And for some of us here tonight, that is not exactly good news. But I know how it goes this time of year.
The month of December is a sprint most of us go through at full speed, not having a moment to slow down and rest. Let me try and guess a few words/phrases that may describe how you feel at this time of year. Rushed. Out of time. No free weekends. Stressed. Hurried. Tired of Turkey sandwiches. Hectic. Overextended. No room for anything else in your schedule.
In light of all that fills this month, I want to offer one simple word of advice on this Christmas Eve: BREATHE!
In our Christmas story, when Mary and Joseph arrived in Bethlehem after a lengthy trip, they were no doubt also tired…exhausted. They probably felt like you feel after a full December. Because after all, Mary was pregnant and had just ridden a donkey for 80 long, dusty miles.
So they arrived in Bethlehem, tired and weary. And after a long trip they need a place to stay and rest. So they went to the local inn and guess what they heard, NO ROOM. Mary has just been forced to ride a donkey at the end of her third trimester for 80 miles, carrying no less than the Son of God inside her womb, and yet, there is apparently no room for her at the inn.
And you gotta be wondering, “What is that innkeeper thinking, turning a pregnant woman away??” You know, we can’t fault him for not knowing that she’s carrying Isarel’s Messiah, because how could he know that, but doesn’t he at least have the decency to offer her a room, pregnant as she is?
From our comfortable spot in the church pew, hearing again a story that we have heard so many Christmases before, it can be quite easy to point a finger at the innkeeper. How dare he turn away a pregnant woman. How dare he not make room.
But have you ever stopped to think about that first Christmas from the perspective of the innkeeper? Now innkeeping was no easy profession. Granted, hotel guests were probably a lot less needy back then, but You had all sorts of guests to take care of who required your hospitality. There was cooking and cleaning that needed to be done. And especially right now, just after Caesar Augustus has called for a census, your little town of Bethlehem has gotten a massive surge of newcomers either staying or stopping on their way through. I would bet that this poor innkeeper has probably never been more busy in his entire life.
And then a pregnant woman shows up with her betrothed seeking a place. And we don’t know what the innkeeper was thinking. We don’t know if he really wanted to find them a space but there just wasn’t room. Or maybe he saw two impoverished looking people, one of them about to give birth and he didn’t want the trouble. Maybe he’s the one who offered them his stable to stay in. We don’t know. But we can imagine that on that first Christmas night, the innkeeper was hurried, frazzled, busy and exhausted. He probably felt a bit like you and me after sprinting through the month of December.
It would be easy to point fingers at the innkeeper, except, we know what that is like, don’t we? To be too busy, too exhausted, to be juggling too much and have no room in our schedules, or no space in our hearts for someone else.
One of the reasons we find ourselves so busy, so exhausted for so much of the time, is because life is demanding. Can I get an “amen”?
It doesn’t matter who you are, we all face life’s demands. And these demands, unfortunately, are not integrated and they pull us in different directions. We face the demands of work and school, of taking care of the house and the yard; the demands of being a parent, a grandparent, a loving spouse, a good friend; and if these weren’t enough, there are also the demands of church, volunteerism and managing your health; there are the demands of paying rent, buying groceries, preparing for the future, paying taxes, this time of year attending at least a dozen Christmas get-togethers.
And the only way we know how to deal with one of these demands is to pay less attention to another demand. So we always, in some area of our life, have no room. Something is always getting dropped leaving us feeling discouraged.
I’ve shared once before, in college there was a game that we would often play in the cafeteria called cup-stacking. Often large groups of us from the same dorm would go grab dinner together in the cafeteria and once we finished eating we would start stacking our plastic cups into one tall stack of cups. I’m not exaggerating when I say that sometimes these stacks would be well over ten feet tall.
And then one person was tasked with carrying this leaning and swaying stack of cups, in one hand, to the dirty dish station. Often, this was done with much applause, but every now and again, someone would not make it all the way to the dirty dish station and the result was a cascade of dozens of clanging and bouncing plastic cups all over the floor.
Sometimes, this is what our life can feel like as we try to stack and balance too many demands, as eventually they all come cascading down around us. And as life’s demands are bouncing and clanging on the floor around us, we scramble to pick them back up quickly so they won’t make too much noise or so nobody else will notice. We reach for work, but that means letting family fall. Or maybe we reach for family and work, leaving self-care to hit the ground. And all the while we watch our sanity fall with most of those cups. Maybe this is what Jesus meant when he said that “those who try to save their life will lose it…”
I wonder if the innkeeper noticed his stack of cups clanging off the ground all around him as he turned Mary and Joseph and God’s own son away.
If read from the perspective of the innkeeper, the Christmas story might be about how easy it is to miss Jesus showing up when you are trying to balance your whole life in your own hands. It’s kind of astounding to think that it was not only the innkeeper but the entire town of Bethlehem who missed Jesus’ arrival that night.
Jesus, God in the flesh, was born, but the city hums on…they have a lot of cups to stack. “The merchants are unaware that God has visited their planet. The innkeeper would never believe that he had just sent God into the cold. And the people would scoff at anyone who told them the Messiah lay in the arms of a teenager on the outskirts of their village. They were all too busy to consider the possibility.
Those who missed Jesus’ arrival that night missed it not because of evil acts or malice; no, they missed it because they simply weren’t looking.” (Max Lucado). They were too busy staring up at the massive stack of teetering cups they were trying to carry around.
Maybe this December you’ve felt so busy, so exhausted, that you’ve also missed Jesus showing up in your life. Or maybe you’ve missed someone like Mary and Joseph who needed your help.
There was a Christmas program at a church and a 7-year-old boy was chosen to be the innkeeper. When Joseph and Mary approached looking for shelter his line was to simply say “I’m sorry… but we have no room.”
But being a good 7-year-old boy, that didn’t seem quite right to him. So when the night of the play arrived he looked at Mary and Joseph and said “I’m sorry, I don’t have room for you in the inn, but I’d love to have you come in for milk and cookies.”
That little boy had a part to play. He knew what his line was supposed to be, but he didn’t like the idea of sending Jesus away…
Tonight, you might feel a bit like the innkeeper, there’s too much going on in your life, too many cups to stack and balance, and you wish you could invite Jesus in for some milk and cookies…you wish you had the room to really ponder what it means that Jesus came down to be with us, but you don’t. And if that’s you tonight. That’s ok. Because Jesus showed up anyway.
The good news of the Christmas story is that even though the innkeeper and everyone else in town were too busy to notice or make room for Jesus, Jesus still squeezed in anyway.
It turns out that not having room for Jesus isn’t enough to keep him away. Because no matter how many cups you’re carrying around tonight, no matter how many times you’ve already missed Jesus showing up in your life, it doesn’t matter. Because Jesus is already here. Already with you. And he’ll just keep showing up, because he loves you too much to get the hint and take a hike.
Jesus came down to be God-with-us. And to show us that life is meant to be so much more than cup stacking. When you feel like you have run out of room in your schedule or in your heart, Jesus still squeezes in anyway. This is the same Jesus who said, “Come to me all you who are weary, and I will give you rest.”
And when your impressive stack of cups inevitably comes crashing down—because it will!..it always does—Jesus will be there for you too to help pick up the pieces.
This is what we celebrate at Christmastime: that Jesus squeezed into an unexpected place so that our souls could feel their true worth, so that we would know life is meant to be so much more than cup-stacking. Amen and may it be so.
I now invite our ushers to come forward and help us light our candles. You can remain sitting while we get them lit, and then we’ll stand up, dim the lights and sing a couple songs by candlelight.
As we light our candles to acknowledge that Jesus is the light of the world, let us celebrate this good news of great joy that is for all people.