Sermon: Christmas Eve, 2020
At the beginning of his Gospel, Saint Luke spent more than a chapter setting up the events that led to the coming of Jesus into the world. But then Luke used only one verse to describe the actual birth.
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. –-Luke 2:7
Mary gave birth in a stable, wrapped her son in strips of cloth to keep him warm, and laid him in a manger. Her baby’s crib was a feeding trough for farm animals . . . because there was no place for them in the inn.
No place. No place for them. No other place to lay one’s head.
It doesn’t take much imagination to realize just how widespread is this experience of “no room in the inn,” no place to call home; no place to be at ease. So much of our modern Christmas mentality and Christmas mythology is about family, about home, about having a place. What’s the holiday song, “I’ll be home for Christmas?”
And yet the one who’s birthday we celebrate was uprooted from home and extended family in Nazareth and forced to be born in a barn and to sleep in a feeding trough. And in the Gospel of Matthew, who with St. Luke also wrote a birth narrative, the infant Jesus is forced into exile in Egypt.
For many of the world’s people, both in the first century and today, the experience of homelessness is an ever-present reality. For some, they have no place to lay their head because of addiction or mental illness. Others are victims of poverty and economic dislocation. Far too many have had their homes destroyed by the forces of nature. Still others are refugees from home and hearth because of the evil, violence, and hatred that grasps and twists some human hearts.
In Bethlehem’s around the world tonight, God’s children are laying down to sleep with a cardboard box for a manger, some old newspaper for swaddling clothes, a bit of plastic stretched over a pole for a stable . . . because there is no place for them in the inn.
But we don’t have to be homeless refugees to be dislocated and to feel as if we’re not at home. So many of the certainties and securities, which many of us thought we knew, have vanished. In a world of Pandemic, massive job losses and business failures, racial and political distress, global climate change—in a universe of multiple realities, where truth is relative or time-limited, we are afloat, cast adrift, lost in a sea of ideas, beliefs, experiences and ideologies.
The consumer culture teaches us to value things over relationships through which we discover our humanity.There is a dis-ease in the center of our souls wherein we know that we’re lost, but haven’t a clue about how to get home. This is especially true in a time where we cannot be home with all those we deeply love without putting them and ourselves at risk of illness and death.
These past few nights many of us have been watching the conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter. When we look up at the vast array of stars and galaxies in the night sky, it’s a humbling, disorienting realization that we’re but a speck in God’s vast universe. We’re refugees even when we have beautiful homes, paid up pensions, and good health insurance. We yearn for something, someone, more. We have a deep longing for a place that we can call home.
The deep mystery of God calls to us from Bethlehem’s manger. For it’s there that God became human and dwelt among us, experiencing the dislocation and alienation of the human condition. And it’s in that same manger that our hearts can discover their true home.
G.K. Chesterton captured the wonder of such a thought in his poem, entitled The House of Christmas.
There fared a mother driven forth
Out of an inn to roam;
In the place where she was homeless
All men are at home.
The crazy stable close at hand,
With shaking timber and shifting sand,
Grew a stronger thing to abide and stand
Than the square stones of Rome.
For men are homesick in their homes,
And strangers under the sun,
And they lay their heads in a foreign land
Whenever the day is done.
Here we have battle and blazing eyes,
And chance and honour and high surprise,
But our homes are under miraculous skies
Where the yule tale was begun.
A Child in a foul stable,
Where the beasts feed and foam;
Only where He was homeless
Are you and I at home;
We have hands that fashion and heads that know,
But our hearts we lost – how long ago!
In a place no chart nor ship can show
Under the sky’s dome.
To an open house in the evening
Home shall men come,
To an older place than Eden
And a taller town than Rome.
To the end of the way of the wandering star,
To the things that cannot be and that are,
To the place where God was homeless
And all (people) are at home.