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.
This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
How many times have you heard this story? This Christmas story which gets so much airtime in movies and tv and nativity scenes. Mary and Joseph going to Bethlehem – on a donkey, little sweet baby Jesus wrapped in swaddling cloths – no crying he makes, shepherds minding their own business, angels appearing and blowing their minds, people being astounded. I grew up knowing this scene intimately. We had so many nativity scenes at my house growing up, I think we got a new one every year, made out of all sorts of materials! In our house this year, we have our special cat nativity where all the characters are cats. This scene always seemed so nice and perfect and quaint.
But if we really zoom in and read the text closely, this idyllic scene might actually be a bit more difficult to stomach than at first glance. The author of Luke sort of sneaks this line in there saying, “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.” One line that says Jesus was born in an animal’s manger, with no bed, no bathroom, no home. So this raises a really important question for me tonight: why? Why was there no place for them in the inn? Why did Joesph’s family not make room for them since it was his hometown? Why does a 9 month pregnant woman have no place to stay and deliver her baby?
There is a fascinating worshiping community called The Good Neighbor Movement in Greensboro, NC through the United Methodist Church. And I was struck by the name of one of their campaigns to end homelessness and to create more affordable housing and mutual aid projects. It is called “Away With the Mangers: Keep Jesus Housed.” It is a play on the beloved hymn Away in the Manger that really challenges our notions of that cute little birth scene. Our savior and lord, the Prince of peace, Mighty counselor, the person we name our whole religion off of was born homeless to an unwed mother, was a refugee, and never actually had a home during his ministry. Why? Why Jesus? I believe it is because this person was the perfect person to be in solidarity with the unhoused, the unwed mothers, the refugees, and all those desperately in need of a savior.
And I think if our savior, our lord, is living in solidarity with those most in need in our world then we as his followers have to ask ourselves some of those same questions. Why? Why is anyone sleeping outside in the cold? Why are there so few shelters in our town? Why is there so little funding for mental health and drug addiction? Why is there so little housing available? Why? Why? Why? And while I am not here to answer all of the why’s tonight. I want us to truly consider what it means to follow someone who was unhoused and a refugee. Because many, many people are in similar positions today.
Tonight we will be taking a special offering called the Room At The Inn offering. The hope is that the offering will make space for people who are outside on the coldest nights to actually have space to stay somewhere warm with a good meal for the night. Jesus did not have room, but we can make sure that others can start to find that safety and security that our savior lacked. We can take hope in this Jesus because with him and through him no one will be left out anymore. Those who have been pushed to the edges of society, those forced to live outside, those struggling with all of the ills of our world will be welcomed to the table of love and comfort.
So as we sing Hark, The Herald Angels Sing and Love Has Come, as we take our Room at the Inn offering, and as we sing Silent Night this evening in the candlelight, I would like to invite us into a time of contemplation and reflection. Think about what it would be like to sleep outside tonight or to give birth in a stable tonight if you can. What sort of support and solidarity would you want from a church and followers of Jesus? Jesus is offering us a home where all are welcome with no conditions. Jesus wants you and you and all of us to be here at the table of God to enjoy a feast that we do not have to prepare. And Jesus wants all of us to be gracious hosts just like him by extending that same invitation of welcome to all those we meet. Then we can begin to turn our world more into that idyllic nativity where the holy family feels welcomed and cared for instead of one filled with instability. May we go and make it so!