Christmas Eve Service 2021
Scripture: Luke 2: 1-20
Sermon: “A King’s Welcome”
I heard a story last week about a Christmas pageant that went awry. There was 9 year old who’d confidently been given the part of the Innkeeper. And he was taller than most 9 year olds, and seemed to fill the part very well. He’d memorized his lines with fervor, and took his role seriously. As it came time for Mary and Joseph to approach him, he was line ready.
“There is no room in the Inn.” Joseph bravely put his arm around Mary and held her close, “Please sir, Mary is with child and will be giving birth very soon. Might there be any room?” The Innkeeper stood tall, “No. There is no room for you.” Joseph, with a saddened look, and Mary great with child looked longingly at the Innkeeper, “Please? Might you help us?” Then they turned to walk away. The Innkeeper was awkwardly silent as he was supposed to usher the lines once again “there is no room at the inn.” You could feel the audience getting nervous for him, and the sideline help mumbling his lines to him. And then it happened. Tears welled up, his face turned puffy and red, and before he knew it, he blurted out “COME BACK! MARY!! JOSEPH! COME BACK…you can have my room!”
That’s probably how the Christmas story really should’ve gone. But as the story goes, ‘there was no place for them at the inn.’ There was no place for Jesus to come to us, except among the lowliest of places, and in the darkness of a field, where a manger (a feeding trough) would hold the savior of the world. And to show us this glory, there was a shining, guiding star.
We have come together on this Christmas Eve, in circumstances we’d rather not experience. There is room for you here in this sanctuary, but we’ve had to say no to your entry. We’re all scattered about in our own homes tonight, faithfully listening and worshipping online together. But we’re missing the physical presence of one another—the joy of hearing one another’s voices—the candles we usually light, whilst hoping we don’t accidentally drop them, or drip the candle wax on our neighbour. We’re missing shouting across the pews “MERRY CHRISTMAS” and the beautiful gift of faces that we’ve known for years, and others who have found us for the very first time.
It’s not the Christmas we imagined. In my part of the lower mainland where we live, there was even a shortage of turkeys! Can you believe it? I almost experienced Christmas Dinner with no turkey! The one surprise Christmas gift I was going to give my husband—which was a ticket to a musical next week, has been cancelled. So, I went and bought him some socks! It’s not the Christmas we imagined. Families were supposed to be travelling around the world, gathering multiple generations and sharing the glory of God’s birth together. It’s not the Christmas we imagined.
Joseph and Mary finally made it to an Inn…after a terribly long journey and in great need of some comfort. And there was nothing to offer. Or rather, nothing was offered. It’s not the Christmas they imagined…or rather, the birth they imagined, which then birthed our Christmas.
Our very Christmas story is steeped in a narrative that wasn’t what any of us would want to imagine for Christmas. And yet, through the unmistakable truth of it all, we find with Mary and Joseph reason not to fear, and a babe to hope in.
Luke’s gospel is a bit different than the other gospels. We get nothing of the royalty who came to see Jesus. No three kings who traveled from afar. No gold, no frankincense, no myrrh. Only the meager stable where Jesus lay. Only the shepherds, whom were the first to know. And also a few animals, who had been somewhat displaced by their sudden visitors. This is the entrance into the world for Jesus. This is the King’s welcome he receives…from the lowliest of folks, in the lowliest of circumstances, comes Jesus…to us.
The thought of it all, signals deep inside ourselves that urge, just like the Innkeeper in the children’s pageant: COME BACK! COME BACK! That’s the real Christmas message….there is room for you, because Jesus makes room for all. And he starts by the very ones that otherwise wouldn’t get noticed. In the gospel story, the shepherds tending flocks of sheep are the first. And the angels tells us of a sign of the Messiah, the Lord. He’ll be a child. He’ll be wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.
Our Advent theme has been Awaiting the Already, taken from Magrey DeVega’s book by that title. We are aware that what we await each Advent, has also already happened. In this Christmas Eve gospel message. Luke is proclaiming the arrival of a new world, a new time. The story begins in “old time.” The first words you heard tonight from Luke were “In those days…”
The emperor reigns. The governor is in power. Taxes are due, census orders made. Many of us mark time by when things are due. Rent is due at the first of the month. Taxes are due by April 15th. Term papers are due before the semester ends. The government marks time, as well. How does the church mark time? When we hear the words from Luke’s gospel “In those days…” we tend to sound tired and hopeless. All these things were due or required, and the world was scrambling.
But the same story told today, ends with “this day.” It is marked by Kairos time, not chronos time. Time is marked by a new moment, and inbreaking of the heavenly realm, where songs of angels break out. This old story beginning with emperors, ends with a joyful proclamation from shepherds! An odd and extraordinary thing is new and happening. Charles Campbell writes “with the Messiah’s birth comes a time characterized not by fear, but by the freedom and joy of the announcement “Do not be afraid.” “Those days” are governed by fear. “This day” comes a new possibility. The way we move in the story from ‘those days’ to ‘this day’ is the surprising and ordinary twist. Campbell writes “The turning point in the story occurs in one extremely understated verse: “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 room for them in the inn.” Before this verse, the story is “in those days.” After this verse, “this day” has arrived.
The story goes on. “It is simply the unexceptional birth of another child to poor parents in a small, crowded backwater town in the empire. No one in any position of power would have noticed. There would have been no royal birth announcements. “But that is the wild and holy mystery of Christmas Eve!”
A pivot happens, and what was old is now for this day. A King is welcomed into the world. In every unexpected way possible. The contemporary poet, Michael Longley, writes this two line gem:
The cosmos shaper has come down to earth.
Mary is counting his fingers and toes.
I know we can’t physically be here together tonight. But you are welcome to this faith. You are welcome to this church. You are invited, even unusual as it is online this year, and to a King that teaches us how to welcome by the very way he was welcomed—with all that was around him—manger, swaddling clothes, love. It might not be what we imagined..but it’ll hold us, and joy will be our underlying strength that carries us, because, friends, there is hope! Christ the Savior is Born. Amen.
 Charles L Campbell, Feasting on the Word.