The Feast of the Nativity – December 24, 2014, 10:30 pm Holy Eucharist
Preacher: The Rev. Katherine Flexer, Rector of St. Michael’s Church
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.
There’s an old tradition in the Mexican community called Las Posadas. In the week before Christmas, people go knocking door to door, looking for room for Mary & Joseph to stay. House after house refuses them, until they come to the home that is hosting the Nativity that evening. When they can finally come in, they pray and sing together and have a party. The next night, it is someone else’s turn to host, and again the group of pilgrims seeks door to door until they find the place that will take them in. This repeats for nine evenings in a row, the nine months that Mary carried Jesus in her womb. For some 400 years, every year, Las Posadas is acted out again – every year, Mary & Joseph search for a room in Bethlehem and are turned away over and over again, before they finally find a home.
Our 3rd & 4th grade Sunday School class gave their rendition of this tradition last week in our Christmas pageant, with Mary and Joseph seeking a coop, a condo, a rental, a shack, anywhere to stay in New York City – only to be turned away because they don’t have enough money and the right documents. Perhaps that’s an image that resonates even more clearly for some of you tonight. Is there room for me here in this place? Is there room for God in this world?
Robert Frost wrote that home is the place where, when you get there, they have to let you in. So are we home yet? And can we allow God to be at home with us?
Having just moved across country, I’m all too aware again of that question of home. I grew up on the West Coast. My family lives out that way. I love the big mountains. I never meant to live in New York City. But here we are, for the second time. Our kids will think of New York as their home, the place where they spent most of their growing up years. And strangely, coming here this second time, it feels like home to me too. ‘Welcome home,’ more than one of you has said – and that is what it feels like.
And having just moved, I am aware, too, of how much stuff we have gathered in our lives. Every move cross country has taken more space in the moving truck. And every move has also meant more stuff in our schedules, as our kids get older and our jobs get more complex. It gets hard to manage all of it. Maybe you know what I’m talking about. We all have closets and boxes we need to sort through, things to get rid of, too much stuff in our overly affluent nation. And we all have hearts and minds that get full of stuff too: worry over things big and small, like our health, or our time, or our money. Too much tied up with our careers, our success in the eyes of others. At this time of year especially, too much fretting over family issues, or finding the perfect gift for someone, or relationship stress. And too many busy days of activities and tasks, all the distractions that clutter our brains. If you’re like me, we find ways of keeping ourselves busy even when we’re not – somehow that looks better, more purposeful, than doing nothing.
But when our hearts and our lives get too full, we wind up with less space for the things that really matter – room for loving our family and friends, room for concern and care for those who are suffering or in pain. And we have less room for God. Maybe you’ve seen those pictures of ‘Jesus knocking at heart’s door,’ with a wispy-looking Jesus standing with lantern in hand and his other hand raised to knock on a door. And indeed, God does come knocking, wanting to move in and love us. But sometimes we really don’t have room. We don’t mean to tell God to go away, but it happens anyway. We’re busy with other things and focused on other stuff, and we don’t have time to think about God and God’s desire for us – or to remember that God loves us.
But tonight is a time when we could possibly have a little more room. We’ve all come in to this church tonight for one reason or another, here to celebrate on Christmas Eve. We’re here singing songs about a baby in a manger, hearing words of God come to us as a holy child – and babies have a way of breaking our hearts. There’s a reason why we return year after year to the idea of this little vulnerable child sleeping in a manger, sleeping with the animals because there was no room for him in the inn. Our hearts soften just enough to notice our own need.
Because the other part that touches us at Christmas is that longing to be loved ourselves. So many secular Christmas songs sing of wishing to be home, in the perfect home where all is well, all is loving and bright. So few of us really find that in our homes, try as we might to make them perfect. We try knocking on a lot of doors ourselves throughout our lives, and sometimes we find ourselves turned out of them – people leave us, employers fire us, other people’s perfect lives don’t include us in them somehow. We long to be in that place where they have to take you in.
But even with all of that we still turn away, of course. We can always choose to pass on relationship with God and with other people. All of those other things we spend our hearts and time on will insist on their due just as soon as we leave this place tonight. But deep down in each one of us, there is a hole that’s made to be filled by God and God’s love for us, and nothing else satisfies that hunger. We can pacify and occupy ourselves with all manner of things. But none of them feed us. None of them fill the hole that is there.
God with us, Emmanuel, means home. It is God making a home with us and in us in order that we can be at home in God. It’s hospitality going both ways – we make room for God in our hearts, and God makes room for us, envelops us within the vast love he has for us. When God knocks on our door, if all we have is just a little bit of room, if all we can do is show up one Christmas Eve to church, God starts with that. The story shows us that God is quite comfortable as an itty-bitty baby in a manger of straw. If all we can muster tonight is a little space, a little quiet within ourselves as we sing ‘Silent Night,’ God will use that. But fair warning: God won’t stop with just that little bit of softening. God will grow within us. And as God grows within us, other things will start to give way. Some of those little things will become less important for us to spend our time on. Some of those big worries won’t be so scary after all. Instead, other people will matter more to us; our hearts will break more easily at the need of another. We’ll have more room in us than we thought was there, to love. And we will find ourselves more and more at home, in love.
You’ve come to a place tonight where God is at home, and where others want you to feel at home as well. Tonight is a chance, one of so many chances God gives us, to set aside some of that stuff that takes us up, and let God come in instead. Your heart has room – it was made for this. May the peace of God and the joy of this season fill you tonight – and may you know always that God loves you. Merry Christmas.