Year B RCL
December 25, 2018
North Fork Ministries
Luke 2:(1-7) 8-20
[In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. 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 place for them in the inn.]
In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid; for see-- I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger." And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,
"Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favors!"
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us." So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
Much of my childhood was spent as a bit player in a manger scene, frequently surrounded by the hungry sounds of baaaing sheep and the cattle lowing and the fresh smell and bristly touch of bales of Coastal Bermuda hay. We wouldn’t have called the rusty steel contraption that held the hay bales aloft for the cows a manger or a crib. If we mentioned it at all it would have been called a trough or maybe just the hay feeder.
Even as a child I was expected to somehow hoist a bale of hay twice my size into the air and drop it into the manger. If the hay had been merely scattered on the ground it would be trampled into the muck and mud by the heavy hoofs of hungry livestock. So after I had managed to get two or three bales into the crib, I’d climb in after them and use the sharpest blade in my pocket knife to slice the binder’s twine holding each bale of hay tightly together and then scamper out of the way before the impatiently waiting Angus bull and his bovine harem allowed their hunger to overcome their dwindling concern for the obstacle of a skinny farm boy standing in the way of their breakfast .
With no summer grass to graze, sheep and cattle expect to be fed every winter day, even on Christmas morning. And so it was, no matter how compelling the gifts I had opened that morning were, I had to leave them aside and head to the stable and reenact the manger scene.
I wasn’t any more enlightened or spiritually aware than your average adolescent boy. And I don’t recall ever noticing the similarities between the sights and sounds and smells of the barnyard scenes enacted on the Christmas mornings of my childhood and those present at the stable in Bethlehem some 2000 years ago. I was simply doing my chores – doing what was expected of me.
You know, I often hear folks from both of our North Fork churches reminiscence about how things used to be. How in decades past, during an era when everyone in America went to church, when there was this youth group and that church activity, all providing evidence of the church’s vibrancy. I usually discourage such talk – wanting us to focus our attention on what we have now and building for the future. However, I can hardly wait for us to have a Christmas pageant again. I long to see the children of Holy Trinity and Redeemer dressed up as Mary and Joseph, shepherds and wise men, cattle and sheep and stars shining in the east. I imagine their faces - black and white and brown. Coming from homes that are loving and warm, and homes that are broken and troubled. With bright futures and uncertain prospects. The offspring of parents in traditional and in non-traditional relationships. All God’s children and with room at the inn for every one of them.
That’s how the NRSV of the Gospel of Luke refers to the place where there was no room for Mary and Joseph - the inn. Another translation, one I like, is guesthouse. For the eight evenings leading up to Christmas Eve the Hispanic members of our churches, held Posadas. At a Posada half of the gathered crowd stands at the front door singing songs asking to be admitted into the church. They are turned away by the voices inside. And so they process by candlelight to the back door where their singing request for admission is finally granted. There are then prayers and song and food and drink and the people inside declare, through their hospitality, that there is indeed room in the inn. There is room in the guesthouse for the Christ Child. Those who take part in the Posadas turn the Christmas story upside down – making it known that in our lives and in our homes there is room for those who are not welcome elsewhere.
What we tend to forget is that we are all players in the pageant, not just at Christmas time, but on every waking day we are called to make the connection between the routine of our lives and the higher calling we are offered. The story of the Christ is the central theme of the Christian life. The birth, the life and ministry, the death and resurrection provide for us the lens through which we are called to view the world.
And at Christmas, the world is the manger. And all are fed. And all are welcome. And the Christ Child is with us. It is good news of great joy for all people. To you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.