a sermon, based on Luke 2.1-14, preached with the people of Epiphany Episcopal Church, Laurens, SC, at the late-night service on Christmas Eve, December 24, 2017
She gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
Joseph and Mary, responding to the census decree of Emperor Augustus, journeyed from Nazareth, standing exhausted on the doorstep of a Bethlehem inn. It was full. Others had arrived ahead of them. First come, first served. But the innkeeper wasn’t heartless. He sent them to the stable. It was better than nothing. And that night Mary gave birth.
Tonight, I wonder about that innkeeper in the years that followed that night. In the years after Jesus began his public ministry. In the years when he made a name for himself, preaching, teaching, healing; some calling him “Rabbi”, others “Messiah”. I wonder if innkeeper ever wondered: “I wish I had had room in the inn.”
Tonight, I wonder about us, we who stand at the doors of our lives as innkeepers, choosing what and who we let in and keep out. The food we eat and don’t. The places we go and don’t. The people we meet and with whom we associate and don’t. The thoughts we contemplate, the feelings we embrace and don’t. The memories we entertain and don’t. The words we say, the deeds we do and don’t.
And, like Augustus, we’re emperors of the domain of our lives. Daily, we take a census. We count. Time, energy, money. Blessings and troubles. Appointments and commitments. Our days; calculating how much we can accomplish and, perhaps at times, contemplating how many we have left.
We’re innkeepers, the doors of our lives swinging both ways, letting in, keeping out and census-takers, always counting.
Tonight, I wonder if what we value, thus, allow into our lives, reflects who we are? Is there a match between what we embrace and what we embody? Harmony between what we believe and how we behave?
Ideally, yes. Yet we know sometimes it just ain’t so! Sometimes, we choose wrongly and count poorly. But in the pressured, split-second timing of daily living, we must deal with whatever or whoever comes first. Sometimes the most urgent thing is not the most important thing. Sometimes what separates the two is only a slight difference in the shade of significance. Whatever the case, though we want to make room for what matters, we must deal what’s at hand; what comes up now and next; like innkeepers following the rule of first come, first served.
Tonight, we celebrate the birth of Jesus. He is the meaning of Christmas. And that meaning is peace: “Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled.”(1) Christmas proclaims the reunion of earth and heaven, the reconciliation of what is, that is, the way we are and what is meant to be, that is, the way God created us. Peace born not only in Jesus, but also in us that every part of our lives is reunited, reconciled. That our choices of what and who we let into our lives and, yes, what and who we keep out, match who we are. That there is clarity and consistency in what we think and feel, intend and do. That we can live ever-attentive to what matters and no longer first come, first served.
Illustration: Detail of The Adoration of the Shepherds (Adorazione dei pastori) (1609), Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571-1610)
(1) From the hymn, Hark, the herald angels sing; Words by Charles Wesley (1707-1788)