Sometimes the best way to bring a story to life is to figure out which person or group we share the deepest emotional connection. So, are we the angels whose joy over this night cannot be contained whatsoever to the point that we even sing about it to those near and far away? Or are we the shepherds whose routine is thoroughly messed up by whatever this thing is going on over there, so we might as well check it out to see if this thing is worth drastically altering the routine for the rest of our life? Or are we the magi, who, to the best of our knowledge at this point in the story, are still on the lookout to find where this God has come to life in the world?
Now we most certainly relate to all of them at various points in our life, but I have a feeling the one we share the most in common with is someone actually never directly mentioned in the story at all. Instead, he is made most famous with every Christmas pageant since the beginning of time with the short and sweet line, “There is no room in the inn!” The innkeeper is closer to us than we want to admit this Christmas Eve night, as we come like the magi to see God come to life in this space, with the deep curiosity of the shepherds, and enthralled hearts of angels to sing to the rafters. But it’s the innkeeper we embody quite often in our own personal story, as we tend to push God to the back of our heart to only be readily accessible when we absolutely need some divine assistance. Until then, God has to reside in a space in our soul eerily similar to the conditions the newborn king had to endure in Bethlehem.
And yet if this story tells us anything, if there’s any hope all these angels, shepherds, magi, and an innkeeper help us realize; it’s that thankfully, God is most definitely not like us. Because if such minimal hospitality was extended to us, to be placed on the same level as donkeys and oxen, we would be enraged. We would unleash a thunderous resentment that would rival the singing of angels. And we obviously would never consider doing anything in return to help those who demeaned us in such a despicable way. Thankfully, God is most definitely not like us!
Yes, Mary and Joseph endured a terribly arduous journey that lasted for scores of miles for days on end. And still the end result is to give birth to Jesus into a feeding trough. God could have very well given up that night, for the treatment the only Son was given. And yet God in the most-definitely-not-like-us fashion says, “You are still worth it!” It obviously didn’t stop there either: the family would have to flee to Egypt as refugees to escape the child’s certain death. But it didn’t stop there for Jesus either. He would heal the sick, raise people from the dead, and treat the outcasts of society as if they were cherished by God; and yet Jesus is met with scorn, ridicule, His own disciples’ betrayal, and ultimately a brutal death on a cross.
Time and time again God could have very well given up on humanity; that in no way do we deserve any kind of heavenly hospitality and even in this life the hospitality of God’s own heart through Jesus Christ. But time and time again, God says to us, to the innkeeper in all of us, “You are still worth it, beyond anything you can ever imagine. You are worth coming to life for even in a manger stall. You are worth living for not only long ago in Galilee, but even right alongside you each and every day of your life. You are worth dying for, even if it is the most painful way that no one should ever go through. And you are most certainly rising from the dead for, to bring a glimpse of Heaven itself to this very world. You are worth all of it!”
Yes, there is a bit of an innkeeper in all of us, when we don’t mind pushing God to the back of our heart. However, God still finds a way to go to work even in the darkest of places. Jesus was given a feeding trough behind the scenes of a little town of Bethlehem, and yet the Good News still got out. Shepherds from a distant field were reeled in to see God’s peace and love and hope. The darkness could not overcome that scene. The shepherds’ fear turned to joy, as it did for Mary and Joseph, and for all of humanity that night. God said in no uncertain terms, “You are taken care of this night and for eternity. You may push me to the back, but nevertheless, I’m still there, and I am never, ever going to leave you.”
Jesus is Emmanuel, God with us through all our days. Thankfully, God is most definitely not like us. Anger and resentment has and will always fall short to the compassion and love of God brought to life in a tiny little baby. And the story is only just beginning in Bethlehem, because this child is about to show the world how to win it all over with a sacrifice of unprecedented love. And evidently God still says, “You are most certainly worth all of it more than you can ever imagine!” Thanks be to God for the greatest story of all that is only just beginning. Amen!
St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
Rev. Dennis Smith, Interim Pastor
Office: Tue - Fri: 9 a.m. - Noon