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Room for Jesus Here

Sermon 1834 Luke 2.1-7 December 24, 2022

It happened again this year, in both our Sunday School and our Green Valley Lutheran School’s Kindergarten presentations. The inn keeper got off easy. He is flustered. He is not the brightest bulb in the box. Trapped by circumstances, his hands are tied and he cannot help the Holy Family in their hour of desperate need. He turns them away. But suddenly his soft heart shows itself and, as disappointed Mary and Joseph walk away, he follows after them and directs them to a quiet stable out back.

All is calm. All is bright. All is well with the world.

I don’t think that’s the way it went down. The baby Jesus isn’t the recipient of the generosity of strangers. All the giving goes in the other direction. Let me present my case this Christmas Eve.

Room for Jesus Here

1. It’s not because of what he looks like.

2. It’s because of what he has made us.

This was not the first “no room for you” message the Holy Family had received.

“In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to his own town to register. So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child (1-4, 5).”

This is the sort of thing that happens under a king. Caesar needed money. The war of conquest was grinding on in Germany without much plunder to show for it. More than a few public building projects in Rome were starting to rise. After twenty-two years Caesar had a steady stream of friends to reward and enemies to bribe. Even Caesar can’t pull money out of his ear. He did it the old fashioned way—he pulled it out of his subjects’ pocketbooks. Everybody in the Roman Empire had to be counted and a head tax collected. And in order not to miss any of the Jews, with their extensive family records, the Jews had to report to their ancestral towns. No excuses, no exemptions. Everyone. Even a Mary nearing the ninth month of her pregnancy. It was 90 miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem, on foot for a poor couple. A five day walk. No excuses, no exemptions. No room for personal hardships.

Joseph and Mary had to make the journey because Bethlehem was the ancestral town of King David. Joseph, “belonged to the house and line of David (4).” That and five bucks will get you a cup of coffee somewhere. A shirt-tailed descendant from a near extinct royal family is not going to get you anywhere. In fact, it may even make you go to the back of the line. “No room for you” in the polite circles of power and privilege.

“While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born. She placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn (6, 7).”

You may have nothing but pleasant memories of the front desk staff at your Mexican resort or that four star hotel in Atlanta. The William F. Harrah School of Hospitality at UNLV trains all its graduates to go the extra mile as they represent Caesars and Harrah’s and the Four Seasons. But the interaction between the poor and the one star motels of this world are much different. Rules are rules, pay in advance, no exceptions. The gruff innkeeper had seen it all before. No freebies to anybody. A few bad months was the only difference between him and them. Poverty breeds a hardness. Eking out a living narrows our vision. “No room for you.”

Perhaps John put his finger on the rejection the Holy Family experienced when he wrote, “He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him (John 1.11).” That hardness, that indifference, that smug rejection. That’s the world. That’s us by nature!

It appeared Jesus had nothing to offer us. Not royalty, not privilege, not riches. But we are impressed by all those things. We want to bask in the reflected glory of fame, fortune and favors. We want to jump on the money-making machine bandwagon in the hopes that there’s enough to go around for us. The Holy Family was in need of everything and what little they had needed to stretch even farther. On a cold winter’s night every door was shut. No room for Jesus.

But that’s not the end of the story. You see, John went on to explain the paradox, the seeming contradiction. “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God (12-13).”

“She gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths (6-7).”

There is room for Jesus. There is room for Jesus here because of what he made us. The promise of a Savior had turned an ordinary young woman, perhaps still in her teens, into a servant of the Lord who would do anything that was expected of her. No complaints. No regrets. It had to be done. She did it. They had a stable for a birthing room. She gave birth to her son. Since he was her firstborn she was as clueless as any first-time mother, not knowing what to expect. No cradle. They used a manger. They got through. They were there. They were blessed. There was room in Mary’s heart.

There is room for Jesus here. When Joseph had first heard the gossip in Nazareth that Mary was already three months pregnant, he had given it some thought and decided to privately break off the engagement. No need to make a bad situation worse. But after the angel had appeared to him in a dream, there was no question what was to be done. He moved up the marriage, letting the gossips talk about him instead of Mary. He took Mary under his protection, though he would not treat her fully as his wife until after Jesus was born. The promise of a Savior had turned a hurt and distrustful man into a pillar of stability and a wall of strength. No one, not at first, was about to give any gifts to the baby Jesus because of who he was. If there are gifts to give (and there certainly are), it is because something changed.

That’s the big story this Christmas Eve, this Saturday evening. There is room for Jesus here, in our hearts. It’s not because of what he looks like. To our sinful human nature and the sinful attitude of this unbelieving world, the baby Jesus still has nothing to offer us. No earthly power, privilege or presents. Yet there is room for Jesus here, in our hearts, because of what he has made us.

Sitting in church on a Saturday evening is not what we usually do, especially for those who are going to be here for our 11 pm service. Getting all dressed up to attend worship has long ago fallen out of fashion. And it isn’t because this is the thing to do in our culture. That, too, has sadly fallen out of fashion years ago. Families gather around the Christmas tree and unwrap presents as piously as grandmothers of another generation prayed to God before a little family altar. Grandpas and grandmas read stories to their visiting grandchildren about Frosty the Snowman or gather around the electronic hearth to watch yet another showing of Christmas Story. But here you are. Something changed. It wasn’t out there, like Grub Hub had a new way to bring worship to your doorstep. Something changed. It wasn’t out there. It was in here. In our hearts. We changed. It’s because of what he made us. It’s because of what Jesus made us.

He made us believers. We don’t consider God some nebulous power drifting around somewhere on the edges of our galaxy, watching as things take care of themselves in the end after a long series of seemingly random events. We don’t consider God a taskmaster, keeping track of all our good deeds and, at day’s end balancing them against the evil we have done. We certainly don’t think of God as our enemy, someone we have to hide every thought, every plan and intention from and plead the Fifth when he finally confronts us.

He made us believers. The baby Jesus did that. He came to us. We didn’t have to come to him. He became one of us. “She gave birth to her firstborn, a son.” He came for us. If you were God and were only looking out for your own well-being and comforts, this is not the way you’d enter this world. But if you came to live as one of us, to experience every hardship and heartbreak we experience, this is the way you would choose. If you came to live as one of us, subject to every law and regulation we were subjected to, bereft of any unfair advantage you might hold, this is the way you would choose. If you had it easy, but chose the hard life, this is definitely how you would come into the world. And by his coming he already showed his love, that he was on our side, that he was for us, that in each and every circumstance he would be by our side and put his thumb on the scale in our favor. He made us believers. He made us believe this God is our Lord. We love because he first loved us.

He opened our eyes. We could see in a world where there are a million things promising pleasure or financial and emotional reward, most of them are distractions that draw us away from what is important. Most of them draw us away from the relationships that crown a life worth living.

He opened our eyes to see the Lord is the giver of every good gift. He opened our eyes to see our true worth, not as a consumer or producer, influencer or immobile spectators. He opened our eyes to see our true worth. He wants us to live with him in heaven. His gift of faith to us makes us righteous and holy in his sight. We are worth everything to him, more than gold, more than silver.

He opened our hearts to the rest of those who are dearly loved by God. He opened our hearts to make the time and effort in our relationships with others, be it family and friends or the social contract we embrace as fellow citizens of this great country of ours and, expanding that circle, to fellow members of the human race blessed with this blue and sparkling planet circling the sun.

No room in the inn? No, there wasn’t. For many reasons there was no room for Jesus back then. But things have changed. There is room for Jesus here. There is room for Jesus in our lives, in our hearts, in our days and nights. There is room for Jesus because our Lord has made that room for himself, creating faith in our hearts, adorning our lives with hope and love. And because there is room for Jesus here there is room for so much more. If one light can drive away the darkness, what can a box of candles do? If one star, an ever fixed mark, leads the way for every wandering ship, what guidance can a sky filled with believers who shine like the hosts of heaven give?

Room for Jesus Here

1. It’s not because of what he looks like.

2. It’s because of what he has made us.

So there’s my case. Will we tamper with the evidence so we feel good about ourselves? Or will we listen to the testimony of the Word and the Spirit in our hearts and recognize the greatest good that has changed our world and changed our very selves? What say ye?

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