It is good for us to be together tonight, this Christmas Eve.
With angels who sing beautiful songs about hope and wonder.
With shepherds of all ages, who gather us in, once again to hear this ancient story and shout `Christ is born for us!’
These words, these images warm our hearts, don’t they? For many of us, it is not Christmas until we hear Luke’s story about stables and mangers and messengers sent from above.
But for me, the story of the Nativity raises more questions than it answers…
Like, couldn’t God have timed this baby’s birth to not take place during a major Roman census? Mary, on a donkey, in her last trimester? Really?
And why would God send a bunch of guys to a birth?
Wouldn’t it have been better if the angels had encircled a group of midwives, instead of shepherds, and sent them ahead to attend to attend to Mary and the newborn child?
And, exactly why was it that Joseph and Mary couldn’t find a place to stay, when Bethlehem (their ancestral home) should have been teaming with relatives?
Why, after all the uprooting from Nazareth, and pre-birth travel to Bethlehem, is their only option for housing, a stable? A barn?
Why, after all this work of coordinating angels, shepherds and kings,
does the Holy Family end up outside?
I suppose we could go on blaming the mean innkeeper-
(After all, he has made a pretty good fall guy for 2,000 years now.)
but, perhaps he was saving the room for a loved one who would arrive even later, who was in even worse straights. (it’s possible)
Or, we could acknowledge that a guest who is about to give birth, and who has had no prenatal care, is kind of a liability for a small business owner. (it’s possible)
Or, maybe, the reason Mary and Joseph didn’t have a place to stay in Bethlehem, had nothing to with the (in) hospitality of Bethlehem’s inns at all.
Maybe the couple found themselves on the outs because of some family squabble or scandal. (How many Christmas’ have been ruined by a late invitation, an ill-time remark about someone’s fruitcake, boyfriend, dress, or unexplained pregnancy?) The truth is that we will never know.
All we know for sure is, that on the night of his birth the Son of God found him self on the outside, not the inside.
I’d like to think God’s son was born outside because that is exactly where God’s son wanted to be.
Outside of our preconceived notions of what a God is, or isn’t.
Outside of our absolute certainties about what a God does or doesn’t do. (likes)
Outside, even of our notions of religion itself.
Outside, because that is where outsiders can be found.
It’s an outrageous claim isn’t it?
That the birth of a baby amid the poverty of Bethlehem could possibly matter?
And yet there it is, in a nutshell, the promise of the gospel – that God regularly shows up where we least expect God to be.
But, you already know that, don’t you? Because, you are here. You came.
You dropped the wrapping paper, found the kids shoes, took off your apron, put the turkey on low, delayed gift giving, weathered the cold, got here early to get a costume, all so you could be here …on the chance…the hope…the prayer that it just might be true…that all of God’s promises…just might be true…
that Jesus might be here.
God regularly shows up where we least expect God to be.
Can you see him? Look into the face of the person next to you.
Look at our angels. Look at the shepherds. Look at the table. Look into your heart. Look outside.
Can you feel him in our midst?
Can you sense the soft folds of warm, newborn skin?
Small, short breaths that warm the face as you come closer?