Thursday, December 24, 2009

Sermon for Christmas Eve, 2009 Luke 2:1-20 “Enough”

The town was packed with people. The smart ones had come early in the day, knowing what the crowds would be like. They made their way to Bethlehem by noon, found lodgings, took a nap in the afternoon heat, settled in, preparing for the long lines that would await them when they went to register for the census.

But Joseph and Mary were late. The donkey was old and couldn’t move very quickly, and that was just as well, because Mary was so great with child and so uncomfortable that the jouncing if the beast had been able to go fast would have made the trip unbearable. So by the time they got to Bethlehem, it was dark, and the heat of the day was gone. Desert countries are quite cool at night, you know. Mary shivered, wanting nothing more than to rest after the trip. They had gone 80 miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem, a long distance for someone like her, the longest distance she had ever traveled.

And now, here they were, in the town, trudging from lodging place to lodging place – there were only a few in a town the size of Bethlehem, and it seemed they had sold out all the rooms much earlier in the day. They were getting desperate, because it was getting even colder in the night, and the donkey was tired, and Mary was aching deep in her bones, and Joseph was getting more angry with himself for not leaving earlier….we’ve all been on road trips like that, haven’t we, where it hasn’t worked out as planned and the whole family is feeling the strain of wrong decisions?

And so, there they were, on the edge of town, at the very last lodging house, and once again, the innkeeper said, “I’m sorry, we’re all full up. No more rooms.”

And something in Joseph snapped. He got angry, this normally gentle man with the big woodworker’s hands. He said, “Man, can’t you see that she is great with child? No room! No room! Won’t anyone take pity on this woman and give her a place to rest?”

The innkeeper was tired, too. The crowds of people in town were a boon to him – he needed the money they paid – but they were hard work too. Demanding more straw for the pallets, more water, more food…everyone was on edge, it happened whenever the Romans pushed the people around, and a census like this was just one more way the Romans showed they had all the power. The Romans snapped their fingers and everyone had to go to their ancestral town to be counted. So those with inns in Bethlehem struggled with a clientele that wasn’t happy – this wasn’t a pleasurable trip, it was a government order – and now here was this last in a long string of angry men at his door. Well, it wasn’t HIS fault. He wasn’t the emperor, was he? It wasn’t his fault that this fellow got here so late. It certainly wasn’t his fault that this woman, no more than a girl, really, was so big with child that it looked like she could give birth any moment?

He took a second look at the girl. Such a calm face. Tired, yes, but peaceful and beautiful in that peace…the innkeeper thought she must be exhausted by the long trip but she said nothing, just sitting on the donkey, a small smile playing around the edges of her lips.

Well, he had no rooms, but maybe there was something…the cave nearby, where the animals were kept. It was rough, but at least in a cave there would be some shelter from the cold night air. Yes, there were animals there, but that would provide more warmth, wouldn’t it? And maybe tomorrow they might find a room somewhere else in town…yes, for tonight it would have to be enough for them, the best he could do under the circumstances, you know.

So he stepped out of the doorway and said “Go over to the foot of the mountains over there – it’s not far, just a hundred meters or so – and there is a cave there. It’s where we keep the animals. Yes, I know, it’s not a room, but it will have to do – I really don’t have anything else. At least you’ll be out of the night winds, and she can rest…there will be fresh straw there for her to lie down on, my boy mucked it out this morning, so it’s pretty clean…”

Joseph looked for a moment as if he was going to say something harsh – put my wife in a cave with animals? – but he stopped himself. He took a deep breath, and simply said “thank you, thank you for helping us.” And he led the donkey over to that cave, away from the bustle of the town to a quiet place where his wife could rest, and he told himself that it was better than a noisy inn where the straw pallets probably had bedbugs and the noise from out-of-towners would have kept them awake, even dog-tired as they were.

The stars were beautiful and the moon was bright, and when they got into the cave it was surprisingly warm and inviting and smelled only a bit like the animals, from their warm breath. It would do, for tonight…maybe tomorrow they’d find better accommodations while they registered for this stupid census.

These two very human, very tired people, doing what the law required, trying to be faithful to their God at the same time, with the strange and wondrous knowledge of what this pregnancy meant for them and for the world…and yet they didn’t say to the innkeeper “Give us a room, because Mary is carrying the Son of God!” Such a demand would have brought unwanted attention from the authorities – little did they know that Herod would hear of the child’s birth from Eastern wise men – and attention from the authorities was never a good thing.

No, they took the gift of that little cave with the manger as enough. It was warm and dry, the animals were not too malodorous, it was quiet. It was enough.

This season of gifts and giving sometimes starts to feel like a celebration of “never enough.” Got to get a bigger tree, got to buy more presents, got to have fancier clothes, got to, got to, got to….

So tonight we take a moment to reflect on the ultimate gift of this night, under the starry sky, this little baby who will save us, redeem us. It is enough. He is enough. And the only question we need answer is this: are WE enough for him? That is our Christmas hope this night, in the cold night air, under the stars, with just the briefest scent of warm animal breath and fresh straw in our nostrils, and the sweet sound of a newborn child cooing in his mother’s arms. May we be enough, in our love of him, in our service to him, in our care for each other.


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