LUKE 2:1-14

DECEMBER 24, 2011


            After some last-minute Christmas shopping, Clara Null was rushing her grandkids into the car.  As she was closing the door, four-year-old Jason said, “Grandma, Susie has something in her pocket.”  He reached into Susie’s pocket and pulled out a new red barrette.

            Though she was tired, Clara knew it was important for Susie to take the barrette back to the store, apologize to the manager, and put the item back where she had found it.  So, they did just that.  Later, they stopped for a few quick groceries.  At the checkout, the clerk asked, “Have you kids been good so Santa will come?”

            Big brother Jason said, “I’ve been very good, but my sister just robbed a store.”

            Well, I am certain on this Christmas Eve that all our boys and girls have been very good.  How exciting it is to wait for Santa.  Even more exciting, however, was the coming of the baby Jesus.

            It is probably the most loved story ever told. It begins like this ...


            In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to his own town to register. So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.


            “No room for them in the inn.”  Those words have touched hearts for two thousand years.  “No room.”  Is there room for Christ in our world this evening?  That’s the simple question I ask this Christmas Eve.  Do we have room for him?  After all, so many things can crowd him out.

            For example, the busyness of this season of the year can crowd him out. This service this evening may be the first chance many of us have had to catch our breath and to take in the true meaning of this holiday season.

            Author Max Lucado, in his book The Applause of Heaven, tells a story of how the busyness of life can cause us to shut Christ out.

            He tells one of the many legends surrounding the magnificent Taj Mahal.  He relates the legend of an emperor in India who built the grand temple in memory of his second wife.  Construction began in 1631.  It took twenty thousand people working for 22 years to complete.  The legend says that the emperor wanted the temple as a dramatic symbol of his love for his wife.  Her coffin was placed in the center of a large parcel of land and construction of the temple was begun around it.  No expense was spared, and as the weeks turned into months, the emperor became more and more obsessed with the grand hall he was constructing.

            Then one late evening, while hurriedly walking from one side of the construction site to the other, he accidentally bumped his leg against a wooden box.  Irritated, he brushed the dust from his leg and ordered the workers to throw the box out.  The emperor did not realize that the box held the remains of his beloved wife.  He had thrown out her coffin.  He had failed to remember that she was there.

            Lucado, reflecting on the legend, put it this way ...


            Thus the one for whom the temple was being built had been cast out.  The one who had inspired the whole project was forgotten.  The one the temple was intended to honor had been harshly pushed aside, absent-mindedly thrown away, and blatantly ignored.  This . . . ancient legend is a painfully relevant parable of the way some people celebrate Christmas today.  Sometimes we become so involved in the tasks and details of Christmas that we forget the One we are honoring.”[1]


            The very busy-ness of the season may keep us from making room for Christ.

Our own coldness of heart may also keep him out.

            In a story in The Christian Century, Harriet Richie told about an incident in her family’s life that revealed to her the true nature of Christmas.  Following their church’s late night Christmas Eve service, Harriet’s family decided to stop somewhere for a quick bite.  The only place open that late on Christmas Eve was a truck stop at a nearby interstate junction.

            A few big diesels rumbled outside.  Inside a few truckers sat at the counter  A jukebox played a country song that went something like this: “When You Leave, Walk Out Backwards So I’ll Think You’re Coming In.”  On the front window were a few multicolored blinking lights.  The place smelled like bacon grease.  A one-armed man stood behind the counter.  The family squeezed into a booth.  A thin waitress named Rita sauntered over.  She managed a weary smile and handed them their menus.

            Harriet looked around.  She felt out of place.  Her family had just come from a beautiful Christmas Eve service.  And soon they would be heading to their lovely home for the night.  She thought one day they would look back with a laugh and say to each other:  “Remember the Christmas we ate breakfast at that truck stop?  That awful music and those tacky lights?”

            She was staring out the window when an old Volkswagen van drove up  A young man with a beard, wearing jeans got out.  He walked around and opened the door for a young woman who was holding a baby.  They hurried inside and took a booth nearby.

            When Rita, the waitress, took the young couples’ order the baby began to cry and neither of the young parents could quiet him.  Rita reached over and held out her arms.  “Sit down and drink your coffee, hon, let me see what I can do.”

            It was evident that Rita had done this before with her own brood.  She began talking and walking around the place.  She showed the baby to one of the truckers who began whistling and making silly faces.  The baby stopped crying.  She showed the baby the blinking lights on the window and the lights on the jukebox.  She brought the baby over to Harriet’s table.  “Just look at this little darlin’.”  She said. “Mine are so big and grown.”  The one-armed fellow behind the counter brought a pot of coffee to Harriet’s table.  As he refilled their mugs, Harriet felt tears in her eyes.  Her husband wanted to know what was wrong.

            “Nothing. Just Christmas,” she told him, reaching in her purse for a Kleenex and a quarter.  “Go see if you can find a Christmas song on the jukebox,” she told the children.

            When they were gone, Harriet said, “He’d come here, wouldn’t he?”

            “Who?” her husband asked.

            “Jesus,” Harriet said. “If Jesus were born in this town tonight and the choices were our neighborhood, the church or this truck stop, it would be here, wouldn’t it?”

            Her husband didn’t answer right away, but looked around the place, looked at the people.  Finally he said, “Either here or a homeless shelter.”

            “That’s what bothers me,” Harriet said.  “When we first got here I felt sorry for these people because they probably aren’t going home to neighborhoods where the houses have candles in the windows and wreaths on the doors.  And listening to that awful music, I thought, I’ll bet nobody here has even heard of Handel.  Now I think that more than any place I know, this is where Christmas is.  But I don’t belong.”

            As they walked to the car, her husband put his arm around her.  “Remember,” he reminded her “the angel said, 'I bring good news of great joy to ALL people.’”

            If we have a cold heart, that story will mean nothing to us.  If we have room in our heart for Christ this night, it could change the way we look at the world.

            The busyness of this season may keep us from making room.  The coldness of our hearts may have the same effect.  The most likely cause of our not making room for Christ, however, is our incessant preoccupation with our own needs.

            Some of you may be familiar with a movie from the 1940s, The Bishop’s Wife.  It was remade in 1996 and renamed The Preacher’s Wife, starring Denzel Washington and Whitney Houston.  In the 1940’s version an Episcopal Bishop, played by David Niven, has been working for months on the plans for a new cathedral.  It becomes an obsession.  Like the emperor building the Taj Mahal he loses sight of his family.  He almost forgets why he became a churchman in the first place.  He is so frustrated he turns to God for guidance.  God responds by sending him an unlikely angel named Dudley, played by Cary Grant.  Dudley does help, but not in the way the bishop might have preferred.  The movie is both a comedy and a drama.  But, of course, in the end everyone lives happily ever after.

            In the final scene, the bishop delivers a Christmas Eve sermon at his former parish, a sermon which was penned by Dudley.  It begins like this:


            Tonight I want to tell you the story of an empty stocking.

            Once upon a midnight clear, there was a child’s cry, a blazing star hung over a stable, and wise men came with birthday gifts.  We haven’t forgotten that night down the centuries.  We celebrate it with stars on Christmas trees, with the sound of bells, and with gifts.

            But especially with gifts.  You give me a book, I give you a tie.  Aunt Martha has always wanted an orange squeezer and Uncle Henry can do with a new pipe.  For we forget nobody, adult or child.  All the stockings are filled, all that is, except one.  And we have even forgotten to hang it up.  The stocking for the child born in a manger.  It’s his birthday we’re celebrating.  Don’t let us ever forget that.

            Let us ask ourselves what He would wish for most.  And then, let each put in his or her share, loving kindness, warm hearts, and a stretched out hand of tolerance.  All the shinning gifts that make peace on earth.


            Wouldn’t that be a wonderful tradition for us to begin in our households this Christmas Eve?  Hang up an extra stocking for the Christ child, and put in that stocking something truly relevant to the season.  Perhaps a gift to be presented later to a person in need.  Or simply a prayer signifying that we will work more earnestly for God’s kingdom in the year ahead.  Or something we will volunteer for in our church or in our community.  Is there room this night in our world for the Christ child?

[1] Max Lucado, The Applause of Heaven (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1999), pp. 131-132.