Sermon: No Room in the Inn
December 24th, 2017 Rev. Betsy Perkins
First Baptist Church, Delavan WI
Scripture passage: Isaiah 52:7-10, John 1:1-14, Psalm 98, Hebrews 1:1-4
straw-strewn cradle in the night,
rough-hewn, muzzle-dampened space
where cattle feed, sparrows nest,
and cloth snags on splintered wood.
O simple feed trough
for God’s lowly beasts;
you are first bearer of Good News;
first container of Living Water, Bread of Life.
Come, clear out with a gust of father’s breath
and mother’s trembling touch;
make room to behold the promise of God
Amen. Pamela C. Hawkins, Behold!
Isn’t this holy space decorated beautifully for Christmas? It holds memories of the Children telling of the Christmas story a few weeks ago in their pageant. It holds meaning in the dedications of the poinsettias. It holds meaning in the nativity crèche figures that were given by a former pastor. It represents the love and care of Linda and Sandi and Brian and others who have given time to make this space sparkle. But there is one piece of the decorations that has been bothering me. It bothered me the moment that Rocky put it up (and no, Rocky, it’s not the camel – that’s starting to grow on me). It’s this sign here: No Room in the Inn. A few hours after Rocky put it up the first time, it fell off the stable. When I came in the next morning and saw it lying face down on the carpet, I confess that I cheered inwardly. I tucked it behind the bale of straw and hoped that Rocky wouldn’t notice. Of course, she noticed immediately and promptly put it back up and with stronger tape, or maybe a nail, that has held throughout the weeks of Advent. And each time I have come and gone through the sanctuary my eye has been drawn to the sign and I feel an inward cringe.
I’ve tried to name the feelings I get when I look at it. I’ve been trying to understand why it has bothered me so much. It has made me feel discouraged some days. It has made me feel annoyed or even a little mad some days, for it seemed to announce the very antithesis of Christ’s message. For in Jesus, God was announcing that there is room for all! Everyone is welcome to come in; come in out of the darkness, into the light. Yet that sign is a part of the Christmas story, a reminder of what actually happened and what the gospel writers thought important to record.
I’ve recognized the uncomfortable feeling of conviction, a sense that there is more truth in that sign’s statement than I would like to admit. For it wasn’t just true for Mary and Joseph and Jesus, I’ve recognized that there is a lot of truth in that sign in our world today. There is no room, or at least very little, for the True message and presence of Jesus Christ. There is no room for those who are refugees, displaced by violence or by poverty. There is no room for kindness and goodness – it is pushed out by sarcasm, and insults, and condescending disregard. No room for peace in continuing conflict, divisiveness, stirring the pot of discord. No room for compassion for traumas, or concern for discrimination. No room for caring for the earth, or for sacred places, or for restoring places damaged by disaster. No room for stillness and calm in the midst of 24-hour shopping and prepackaged gifts and flashing lawn decorations. No room for Truth, or even for facts for that matter.
However, just when I began to feel especially discouraged, I remembered those here in this congregation who eagerly bought residents of Inspiration Ministries exactly what they had on their wish-list let them know that they are not forgotten, but that there is room for them in a circle of love. I saw a dozen more jars of peanut butter and a case of soup in the Food pantry wagons, to let those in poverty know that there is room for them at the table. I saw pictures of many of you ringing the bells at Shopko for Human Concerns. I saw table decorations for the nursing home. I remembered that the Church stands for something else – for plenty of room, for warm welcome, for civility, for being kind and loving to someone even if we disagree on our politics, or our perspectives, or even our faith – especially if we disagree on these things! The Church of Jesus Christ stands for giving up our privilege, even our right, to claim a room in the inn in order to offer it to others, just as the Son of God gave up his place of privilege in the heavenly realm to become part of a poor, displaced family on earth.
I can’t change the Christmas story, the fact that the soon-to-be-born Jesus was turned away, but I can turn it into a reminder and a challenge that we are called to be God’s Inn where there is always room and always welcome and always love and compassion. May we unlock the doors of our homes and hearts and truly be Jesus’ presence in the world, shining His light, being the Light. We are to be born anew this night to unlock our souls, in order to be Light, Truth, Hope, Joy, Peace and Love. So I’m going to take down this sign now and I’m going to ask the ushers to pass out a small gift for each one of you, a reminder to make room this Christmas, this year.
The words of an old hymn have been rising up in my soul over this past week as I looked at that ‘No Room’ sign and sensed the challenge to make room! The words were written by Emily Elliot:
Thou didst leave thy throne and thy kingly crown
When thou camest to earth for me,
But in Bethlehem’s home there was found no room
For thy holy nativity.
O come to my heart, Lord Jesus,
there is room in my heart for thee!
(#198, Verse 1)
Closing Song: “Silent Night, Holy Night”
Benediction: O come to my heart, Lord Jesus. There is room in my heart for thee.