a sermon, based on Luke 2.1-14, preached with the people of Epiphany Episcopal Church, Laurens, SC, on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, December 24 and 25, 2016
“She gave birth to her firstborn son…and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.”
A mother lays her newborn baby in a filthy feeding trough for animals in a dark, dank, rank stable because there was no room in the inn. It doesn’t matter why. The heartless negligence of an innkeeper’s refusal to find lodging for a needy family, the blameless coincidence of the inn already filled by others coming to be registered, or something else. Whatever the reason, this story often is viewed as a sad depiction of privation and exclusion.
I see it as a story of hope. Hope that reflects our desire for the way we want life, the world to be. A desire deep and abiding precisely because it is seldom achieved and whenever realized, never long-lasting.
Hope is why this story has mesmerizing power. Why we read it every year. Why we gather annually to hear it. All to remind ourselves of the way things are meant to be.
So, let us listen again.
This baby, according to his-story, grew up and for many in his time was and, according to history, for countless over two millennia is the embodiment of love, the kindness for which our souls cry, and justice, the fairness for which our hearts hunger. This baby found no room in the inn and was laid in a manger.
An inn is a lodging place for guests; a temporary house for visitors, those who are not at home. A manger is a place for food where those who hunger are fed.
This Jesus, the embodiment of love and justice, is not a guest, not a visitor, therefore he need never lodge in the inn. Rather lying in a manger, he is the feast!
Is it possible then that love and justice are the food of which we are to partake so to become what, who we eat? Is it possible that as love and justice are embodied in our lives that we, others, God will see and know that kindness and fairness are not alien or unknown, but alive and at home in this world?
If we embrace and embody that hope, then it is possible that we this Christmas Day and every day will make all the difference in this world.
Photograph: me preaching at The Washington National Cathedral, Friday, January 27, 2006 (by Walt Calahan)
Illustration: The Adoration of the Shepherds (1609), Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571-1610)