Merry Christmas! This is a special time of the year. During this time, family and friends often get together to eat and share old stories from years past – army tales, college experiences, how they fell in love. In the same way, as a congregation, today we are gathered together in worship to remember and revisit the day that God came to earth in the person of Jesus Christ.
Let’s examine today’s Scripture passage as two distinct parts. Verses 1-7 are what I would entitle “Busy Living” and verses 8-20 I would entitle “Busy Rejoicing.” I believe we will once again be surprised to be reminded of how this story from so long ago still resonates with us today.
Part 1 – Busy Living
Life is busy. Would you not agree? We have so many things to do. But it is not just that there are so many things to do, so many things we are required to do. For example, you must file your taxes by April 15 every year. Joseph and Mary were required by the Roman government to register. They did not just jump into their car and drive. They had to journey 80 miles on foot and horseback. To make matters worse, Mary was pregnant. By the time they arrived in Bethlehem to register, Mary was ready to give birth. They looked for a room at the local motels and inns, but the whole town was busy trying to do the same exact thing. Alas, at the last possible inn, because there was no room, the innkeeper allowed them to use the barn.
Busy right? Joseph and Mary had to register. They had to travel. They had to get married. They were about to become parents. They had to find a room. They had to deliver a baby. The innkeeper and his wife had to take care of all of their guests. They had to turn customers away because they were at maximum capacity. They had to say no to a pregnant couple.
There is a saying we might hear a lot a church, “God’s timing is perfect.” Based on today’s story of Jesus’ arrival on earth, I would argue that maybe God’s timing is not so perfect. Why should God come at such a busy time? Why not wait until after the registration and census? Since I am not God, I cannot give a clear answer. However, I will offer this: we agreed earlier that life is busy. I will dare to say that life will always be busy. If it is not the registration for a census, it will be something else. There will always be something to keep us busy.
The busyness of the season kept the innkeeper and his wife fully occupied. The baby Jesus entered into their establishment. They were literally in the same room as God, but responsibilities and duties prevented them from being bothered. They redirected the baby and his family away to the garage. Can we blame the innkeeper? If anything, this is how most of us live. Jesus can literally walk into our home or workplace and we will not have time for him. Such is life.
I do not believe that Part 1 is a cautionary tale. The lesson of this section is not, “Do not become like the innkeeper and send Jesus away.” Part 1 simply tells us how it is: we ARE the innkeeper. There just is no place for them at the inn.
Part 2 – Busy Rejoicing
Part 1 did not contain much hope. It just reflected how things are. Part 2, however, is a little different. I think this part gives us a glimpse of how it could be this Christmas through telling us how it was as the first Christmas.
We have agreed that life is busy. Life is so busy that we are not surprised that the innkeeper missed Jesus and even sent him away. What hope is there for us who do not have the luxury of dropping everything to take care of everyone who seeks our help?
Nearby, there were shepherds who were tending to their duties and watching over their flock at night. An angel of God appears before them and tells the shepherds that tonight a savior is born. They seek out the couple, find them, and tell them what the angel said to them. Then they return to their flock in the field.
It might seem weird to compare the shepherds to the innkeepers but let me give it a try. They both have responsibilities and duties. One cares for the sheep the other cares for the inn. God approaches both of them. To one God sends a messenger and to the other God arrives directly along with his immediate family. God speaks to both of them. To one is said, “the Savior of the world is born tonight,” to the other is said, “I need a place to stay.” Which statement is easier to believe?
The shepherds and innkeepers so far are pretty evenly matched and look similar. Here is the difference: the shepherds talked to each other and decided to investigate. I am sure the innkeeper and his wife also discussed it but concluded there was nothing they could do.
When the shepherds find the baby and his parents, the shepherds share what they saw: an angel told them that the savior of the world was born, where to find him, and that all the angels of heaven sang their praises. These shepherds were not the wise men. They did not bring gifts. After seeing Jesus, they returned to their flock in the field. Nothing changed. They were not promoted. If anything, they risked getting fired for neglecting their duties. They just returned to their everyday life. But one thing did change: they returned to their everyday life, glorifying and praising God.
It does not matter who you are. The innkeepers, the shepherds, and we are all busy living life. The difference is how we pause in the busyness. The innkeepers paused and focused on their bottom-line, on their profit and stayed busy. The shepherds paused and considered that maybe something special happened and maybe they should check it out – so they did.
I do not think we are either the innkeeper or the shepherd. I think we are both the innkeeper and the shepherd. I believe that daily, and especially this Christmas time, God invites us to try to respond like the shepherds did.
I will present two simple suggestions: 1) Pause. Pause your life. This is easier said than done. Life will not stop being busy. Pausing involves risk. The shepherds left their flocks behind. The innkeeper had to risk losing money. What if this busy season of Christmas, while we are finishing up our shopping, our wrapping, and traveling, we slow down to consider the idea that God has reached out to us and calls us to come and worship. What if we actually denied the desires of our own comfort and convenience for a moment to think of God?
This would allow us to do the next suggestion: 2) Worship. Worship God. The shepherds worshipped God. But what exactly did they do? The angel gave them a message from God – a sermon. What did they do with it? They listened, discussed it together, and they concluded that they should seek out the savior. They find the savior with a poor, humble couple. They shared only what they already heard from the angel’s sermon. Then they left. Did you get that? The worship of the shepherds included the elements of: gathering, hearing the Word, processing the Word, going out, and sharing the Word. It is not very different than our own worship today.
By doing these two things, we set ourselves up to have full hearts. Pausing and worshiping do not guarantee anything. Maybe like the shepherds, we will find that when we go and return from worship, nothing will have changed with regard to our situation. Things will still be busy. People will still need our help. We will not be able to solve all our problems. But maybe, like the shepherds, we experience hearts that are full. Hearts that glorify and praise God create a different attitude toward the day to day living. In other words, while nothing may actually change, the way we view and perceive will have changed – thereby changing everything! This is the blessing the shepherds received on the first Christmas. May the same be so with us. Merry Christmas!
2:1In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3All went to their own towns to be registered. 4Joseph 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. 5He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child.6While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. 7And 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. 8In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.10But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” 13And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, 14“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” 15When 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.” 16So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. 17When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; 18and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. 20The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.