Welcome, friends, guests, neighbors, family, people of peace and goodwill. You have come here tonight to worship Jesus, to hear the story again, to sing the carols, to join in fellowship around the one table, to pray for peace during a time of war, violence, and suffering; you have come here to participate in this annual pilgrimage from your home and streets and neighborhood to the manger, to the little town of Bethlehem, to the site of a holy birth, to the surrounding hills and valleys where sheep graze and shepherds watch and angels sing. You have come to be transported to another place and time. And though we cannot physically go there tonight, the words we hear and sing move us there in our minds and hearts. Perhaps because you are in need of some nostalgia or an escape from the real world. Perhaps your soul hungers and your heart grieves. Perhaps you are weighed by the heaviness of recent world events, elections, attacks, overt public acts of discrimination and hate. You are concerned about places like Aleppo, Syria or Afghanistan or Cairo, or Chicago or Berlin. Places where people live and suffer unjustly, live with perpetual war or fear of violence. Perhaps you are work weary or fighting illness or grieving a loss. Maybe you are eager to feel the presence of God or taste the goodness of the Lord. Maybe you just love this night. The anticipation of the children. The beauty and majesty of candlelight and silent night. Maybe you are here by invitation or obligation. Someone else wanted you or needed you here. So here you are. We welcome you here. There is a place for you, wherever you are in your life circumstances. We only ask that you be present with us in the activity, the work of worship. Your presence is appreciated. Thank you for coming. There is always room here for you.
There was no room for them in the inn, Luke said. Internally displaced by the occupying governments of imperial Rome, because emperors like to register religious groups as a form of intimidation and social control, they traveled 100 miles on foot from Nazareth to Bethlehem---a hard journey. A system of oppression was in place that forced the young couple to travel far from their village and family. Forced to deliver her baby in a distant town, they will be forced to flee to another country to avoid violent persecution by their own governing rulers. This new family will become refugees, until a change in government allows them to return to their home town of Nazareth. These people experience rejection, homelessness, and internal displacement. As do an unprecedented number of people in the world today. Some 60 million people are displaced. 1 in 100 people on the planet. 60 % of all Syrians have been forced from their homes. They experience what Mary and Joseph and Jesus did; no room in the inn. It is to an inhospitable world that he comes. According to Luke, there was no room in the kataluma, or guest room. Many homes had a guest room, prepared for travelers to rest. Customary hospitality would have prohibited the residents, likely Joseph’s extended family, from turning them away, especially because she was in labor, even if the guest room was already occupied. Instead, they would’ve made space for them with the animals on the side of the house. Sort of like the garage, connected to the main quarters of the home. Family members, villagers, animals, and shepherds would have surrounded the very public birth. It was not a private, silent night in a solitary cattle shed in a field. It was downtown Bethlehem, during a time of forced migration. Jesus is born under these circumstances, received by strangers and extended family. When we welcome the displaced, the refugee, the single mother and child, those experiencing poverty and systemic injustice, we welcome Jesus.
We have heard so much bad news, so much fake news, so little good news that we find it hard to believe. Don’t we? This year has left many of us feeling anxious, afraid, and disturbed by what we have seen and heard on the news. So, listen to the angels and sing what they sang. For to you has been born on this day in the city of David, a savior, who is Christ the Lord. So many of us see the need for a savior, a rescuing helper, a divine intervention in the world’s crises. We have seen refugees drown and children die in war. We have seen shooting violence and racism; heard of islamophobia and the denigration of immigrants. Dehumanizing. Cruel. Sad. We may feel powerless, defeated by forces of injustice and evil. We see the widening gulf between the rich and the poor. This ugliness on the news leaves us jaded and cynical. Can anything get better? Can anyone help? Angels says, to you is born a savior. While emperors threaten and power is displayed through violence, peace maintained through war---a prince of peace is born to peasants in an ancient Palestinian village. He comes to save us from our sins, from our worst selves. More than ever the world needs angels, messengers of good news to announce a savior’s birth and a promise of peace and goodwill toward all humankind. We are invited to join the angels and the shepherds, and tell others the good news of what God has done. If we don’t the world will not know it. Perhaps nothing gets better, as long as we remain silent. As you go home tonight, ponder these things in your heart. His birth says that God comes to us. God abides with us. God seeks us. God comes near. God is present. In space and time. Present to us.
Far from home, he comes to dwell among people and animals. This is the good news. Received, but not welcomed. He comes to this world beset by violence, forced migration and displacement. According to the story, Jesus is God with us, God in the flesh dwelling among us. No doubt you are making room for guests this weekend as extended family gather to celebrate. If you must travel and become a guest, remember the story. If you receive guests, may your hospitality be received with gratitude. And may you be blessed by your guests, as if the holy family were present. May the presence of the savior be made known to you in the breaking of the bread. Bethlehem literally means house of flesh or house of bread and reminds us that wherever the bread is broken and eaten, Jesus is present to save. May you experience his loving presence in this place and in all the places you find yourselves this holy season. Amen.