12/15/02, A3B

“Space for the Stranger”
Luke 2: 1-7

"And she brought forth her firstborn son,
and wrapped him in swaddling clothes,
and laid him in a manger;
because there was no room for them in the inn."

(Luke 2: 7, KJV)

Warnie Lewis came home from a bus trip to tell his brother Jack (C.S. Lewis) about a humorous event as the bus rode by a church all decorated for Christmas. A woman remarked loudly as she pointed out the window, "Just look at that, the church is taking over everything else and now they are trying to take over Christmas." It seems that a lot of folks feel that way, but perhaps don't express it so garishly. America's "Happy Holidays" have become such a crowded time that there's hardly room for Jesus.

It's not the first time that Jesus has been left out. He began life in a borrowed stable and His bassinet was a barnyard feeding trough. He is used to being squeezed out and shoved aside. There was no room in the Inn in Bethlehem that first Christmas evening. One of the many miracles of the Christmas story is that God could take such a humble, out of the way, beginning and change the world.

Still today He comes as a stranger, often catching us unawares. Timothy Dudley Smith phrases it well, "He comes to us as one unknown, a breath unseen, unheard, as though within a heart of stone, or shriveled seed in darkness sown, a pulse of being stirred, a pulse of being stirred." (Augsburg Hymnal). We are often startled by this stranger.

But I am preaching to the choir; to those who are responding. You are here for Christmas worship, which means that you are making an effort to make room for the Babe of Bethlehem. The modern miracle is that whenever we make room for Him in worship, He usually joins us in the pew. We will have to try real hard to miss Him today.

As I was typing this page, Ginger was sitting on my lap. There is something comforting about a cat on your lap while you are stretched out reading, but it's hard to sit in a desk chair and reach the keyboard over and around a cat. But Ginger has learned in her 19, "human" years, to crowd in and I will pet her and warm her paws for a while. That's the Spirit of the Babe of Bethlehem, the very Son of the Creator, who comes on in until we recognize Him, and make room. Can't we almost hear Him saying, "Move over Rover, I'm coming into your heart today!"

If the Infleshment of God had been only a one time event, as precious as the story is, it would today be just that; a precious legend. However, unlike the myths of antiquity, the Christ Event is a true story that happened, and that is happening still in hearts of flesh.

For example, as today's part of the Christmas Story is read the Holy Spirit gives us discernment to apply the "No Room" situation at the Bethlehem Inn, to our own lack of space for Jesus in our lives. Spiritual Discernment is something more than the ordinary educational and moral benefit we receive from reading general literature. Spiritual insight is God taking the story and impressing it upon our souls to the bending point. Receiving that Blessing from God is a part of what we mean by making room for Jesus. The story continues to happen as it occurs contemporarily in us.

Jesus most often comes to us when we meet Him half way. When we make the effort to place ourselves in a spiritually vulnerable situation, God puts His arm around our shoulder in friendship. For example, do you think that you will have a higher hope of experiencing God's presence this evening at 6:00 p.m., at our Choir's Cantata, or sitting at home in front of the television watching the hollering football commentators give recaps of today's games? One of the basic Biblical assumptions is that, "The Lord comes near to them that call upon Him."(Ps. 145:18) When we, "Draw nigh (up close) to God He will draw nigh to us." (James 4:8) It just makes sense that if we want to do well in a subject in school we need to pay attention in classroom lectures and allow ourselves to be captured by the subject.

Christmas catches up with those who have made themselves available. As we re-read the story, letting it grab us anew, the Spirit of the Christ Child will infiltrate our souls and psyches. Or, we can avoid Him. We can hang out the "No Vacancy" sign.

our tour group arrived at the beautiful new town of Naharea by the Mediterranean Sea late one night and were anxious for a meal and a room. During the meal we were told that one of our couples had no room assignment and that there was no room available. My enterprising friend went to the front desk and asked the hotel manager an interesting question. "If the Prime Minister of Israel were to arrive at this hotel tonight would you have a room for him? The stunned manager said, "Certainly we would have a room for our leader!" Our friend answered, "Well, he is not coming tonight and I will take his room." And they suddenly found a room.

I believe that most people who seem to be avoiding God are doing so on purpose-they do not want to be recruited by Him. It is not as much fear as it is the desire to remain the old sinful self that they are. They know that if He gets to them they will be changed, and they do not want to break old habits. Christmas can be a good time for rebels to find a new cause. To trade in the old for the new as the guard is let down jus enough to Allow Him Room.

We always have room; we just need a nudge to make space for the Stranger.

a sermon synopsis by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor

12/15/02, A3B