Vacancy (Christmas Eve)

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on email

Merry Christmas, everyone! While our in person services were great, and our recording is visually wonderful, we did not set up the audio properly, and that means that we are not putting the recording up. My apologies to anyone who was counting on that.


Once upon a time, all the way back in 2010, someone told the world that they remembered that Nelson Mandela had died, in prison, in South Africa, in the 1980s. And that someone told the world that thousands of people—maybe more—remembered the same thing.

They were wrong, of course. Nelson Mandela did not die, in prison, in South Africa, in the 1980s. He walked out of that prison in 1990. He served as the president of South Africa from 1994 to 1999. And even after he retired, he continued a life of activism and philanthropy . He did not die until 2013, when he was 95 years old.

But it happens. I’ve talked about it before. People misremember.

The Berenstein Bears are really the Berenstain Bears: s-t-a-i-n. Curious George did not have a tail. The Monopoly Man does not have a monocle. There’s no hyphen in KitKat. The Lindbergh Baby was actually found.

People misremember. And, sometimes, as a story gets passed from person to person, and images get blended together in our minds, a lot of people misremember the same thing in the same way.

And here’s why I’m telling you about misremembering. Here’s why I’m telling you about the Mandela Effect: there is no innkeeper in this story.

You might remember the story of Mary and Joseph making the long journey from their home in Nazareth to Joseph’s ancestral home in Bethlehem. You might remember Joseph knocking on the door of the local inn. You might remember him explaining that his fiancée, Mary, was extremely pregnant, and they had traveled so far, and they just needed a comfortable place to stay for the night.

And you might remember the innkeeper turning them away, because all of the rooms were taken, but…

You might remember the innkeeper saying that there is a stable out back… right over there… and there’s straw… and the animals make it warm… and beggars can’t be choosers, so…

There are Christmas pageants with this scene. There are festivals with this scene. I remember this scene and I have told the story with this scene. But I’ll say it again: there is no innkeeper in this story.

The only innkeeper in this story is the one that we imagine. The only innkeeper in this story is the one that we create.

Tonight is Christmas Eve. It’s the night when we light the Christ candle, and sing the carols… and tell the story.

It’s a story that’s been passed from generation to generation; that has crossed oceans and continents. It’s a story that has been told in good times and in bad, in times of plenty and in times of want, in times of sickness and in times of health. It has shepherds and angels and long journeys. It has emperors and kings. It has new parents, huddling with the animals after one of those long journeys, wrapping a newborn baby in cloth, and laying him in a manger.

It is a story about how God loves.

In the beginning, God created… everything… and entire cosmic order. And God gave it, as a gift, to itself. And as that cosmos grew and expanded and changed—as stars ignited and exploded, as fish and reptiles and mammals rose on earth, as humanity evolved and spread—God sustained it. God kept it going. God made sure that the birds were fed and the lilies were clothed.

And then… it broke. We broke it. And sin—that distance between what the world is and what the world is called to be—grew. It rippled around the world and across the cosmos and throughout time. And it got in… everything.

And God looked at the world and had compassion. And God did not respond with flood or with fire. God did not take every broken thing and throw it away. God did not leave us lost in the wilderness, fumbling in the darkness, reaching out desperately, but too far away.

No. In the middle of all of that, God came into the world as one of us, among a dispossessed people in an occupied land, in a backwater province of a great empire, as a newborn, to new parents, huddled among the animals after a long journey.

And that’s not the end of the story. That’s just the beginning. And it is an outrageous story. It is a story that is wild… and maybe a little bit dangerous… and absolutely full of grace.

And there is no innkeeper in this story.

There is no barrier; there are no gates; there is no door that will be shut in your face. There is no one asking for papers; there is no one checking IDs; there is no one who will tell you that there just isn’t room for you.

In all of your wondrous brokenness, you are loved and worthy of love; and God loves you exactly the way that you are; and God loves you too much to leave you that way.

And if you want to step into the fullness of that love… all you have to do is move forward.

That is an outrageous thought. It is a thought that is wild…and maybe a little bit dangerous… and absolutely full of grace.

And it is a thought that… well… I’m not quite sure that we like it. I think that, sometimes, we like to imagine an innkeeper. I think that, sometimes, we like to create an innkeeper.

There are times when we are comfortable on the inside, worrying about those people out there. We are an open and affirming congregation. We accept and celebrate everyone. No matter who you are, and no matter where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here. 

But… sometimes… some folks grumble about some folks. It’s true. We are open and affirming and imperfect. And, sometimes, it’s nice to imagine that it’s not us, but an innkeeper, who is keeping people out.

There are other times when we are comfortable on the outside, worrying about those people in there. We are confident in ourselves as long as we’re by ourselves. But what will they think about us? What will they say about us? How will they look at us if they know that we’re… y’know…

And we can fill in that blank however we want. We can fill it in as individuals or as a community.

What will people think if they find out that we’re Christian? Or that anyone is welcome here? Or that, sometimes, our pastor preaches on controversial stuff? Or that we can disagree, and have hard conversations, and argue… and still love each other?

And, sometimes, it’s nice to imagine that it’s not us, but an innkeeper, who is keeping us out.

But there IS NO INNKEEPER in this story.

In the story that Luke tells, Mary and Joseph make a long journey from their home in Nazareth to Joseph’s ancestral home in Bethlehem.

And they go to a house. Maybe it’s the house of a family member. Maybe it’s the house of a friend. Maybe it’s a house that they trust will follow the ancient customs of hospitality.

And the house has a place for the animals right there, almost right with the people. Because animals were expensive, and you wouldn’t want to leave the few that you had—the few that you relied on for your survival—to the mercy of bandits and wolves.

And there are so many travelers. And the upper chamber is already full. But there’s plenty of room right here on the ground floor… and Mary is extremely pregnant… and it’s not like she wants to climb a ladder, anyway.

Which is to say this:

Mary and Joseph aren’t here, near the animals, because they were kept out. They are here, near the animals, because they were invited in. This is hospitality. This is a gift.

And in that space, near the animals and with the help of the women of the house, who are no strangers to this moment, they do the hard thing. And they take the newborn Christ—the God who came into the world as one of us—and clean him up, and wrap him in cloth, and lay him in a manger. 

And here’s the thing:

Tonight is Christmas Eve. It’s the night when we light the Christ candle, and sing the carols… and tell the story.

It is a story that has shepherds and angels and long journeys. It is a story that has emperors and kings. It is a story that has new parents and a God who came into the world as one of us. And, yes, it is a story that has some animals, too. All of creation is rejoicing in this moment.

And there is no innkeeper. Or, maybe, there is… but this innkeeper—not the one who we imagine, or the one who we create, but the one who is actually there—is not keeping anyone out, but is inviting each and every person… in.

Which is to say this:

There is no one keeping you out of this story. There is no one keeping you out of this church, or this congregation, or this community. There is no one keeping you out of the kingdom of God.

No matter who you are, and no matter where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here. There is space for you here. There is room for you here. There is hospitality for you here. There is love for you here.

And if you want to know that… if you want to experience that… if you want to have that… all you have to do, is come inside.

Thank God… and hallelujah… and amen!

Share
Share on facebook
Facebook
Share on twitter
Twitter
Share on linkedin
LinkedIn
Share on email
Email
Explore
Info

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This
Subscribe