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Christmas Eve Nineteen Ninety Nine

Creator God, you who have bridged the gap between heaven and earth, immortality and mortality in the birth of the Savior Jesus Christ, bridge the gaps of our lives that we might see ourselves in this your great story, that like the shepherds, we may proclaim all we have experienced, all we have seen and heard and believed. Amen.

Wally was standing at the wooden door set into the painted backdrop when the boy and girl playing Joseph and Mary arrived at the inn in Bethlehem. Oh, he had wanted to play one of the shepherds, but everyone in town knew that Wallace Purling had a wonderfully soft heart, but he was clumsy, and, well, he was slow. And the last thing that Miss Lumbard needed was a shepherd who forgot his lines or knocked something over when he came to the stable. So the entire town was there when Wally got his chance.

You see, Miss Lumbard had thought that his lines were simple enough and his size big enough that he'd handle the job of the innkeeper well.

So Joseph knocked and Wally, right on cue, opened the door. "What do you want?" demanded the normally gentle Wally.

"We seek lodging," Joseph said.

"Seek it elsewhere." Wally looked straight ahead but spoke vigorously. "The inn is full."

"Sir, we have asked everywhere in vain; we have traveled far and are very weary," Joseph continued.

"There is no room in this inn for you!" Wally looked properly stern.

"Please, good innkeeper, this is my wife Mary," Joseph continued. "She is heavy with child and needs a place to rest. Surely you must have some small corner for her. She is so tired."

And now for the first time, the innkeeper relaxed his stiff stance and looked down at Mary and then Wally paused and the audience held their breath. "Would Wally remember his lines?" they wondered. "No, begone!" the prompter whispered from the wings.

"No!" Wally automatically responded. "Begone!"

And Joseph placed his arm around Mary, just as they had practiced it, and Mary laid her head upon his shoulder. The two of them began to slowly move away, but Wally, who was supposed to close the door and exit, did not leave the door. Wallace Purling stood there, fixed in that doorway. His mouth was open, his brow creased with concern as he followed Mary and Joseph with his eyes. And then his eyes began to visibly, unmistakably fill with tears, and that's when the miracle happened.

"Don't go, Joseph!" Wally called out. "Bring Mary back!" And then his face filled with a bright smile. He called out, "You can have my room!"

Tonight I'm wondering if I would have made room for the Christ child. On a cold winter's night, if I were that innkeeper, I wonder what I would have done. I imagine that he was a harried businessman. The commercial traffic must have been a mixed blessing. On the one hand, he would have loved the business; his financial picture would have been considerably brightened by Caesar's enrollment. Bethlehem, you see, was a sleepy, little village with little to show for itself except sheep pastures and a great history as the home of the greatest of all the kings of Israel?King David. And I'm certain that this innkeeper had never seen business like that would have been, but his patience and satisfaction surely would have been stretched thin by the unceasing demands for food and a place to eat. Oh, I'd like to believe that like Wally, my heart would have been stirred by mercy and I would have said, "Come on in, Mary, Joseph, you can have my room."

On the other hand, I know how focused I can get on what I think I need to get done. In a rush for a cup of coffee at the local espresso shop, for example, I bolted out of my car to get through the door before that mother with her children. Why? Because I know she'll take a long time ordering that latte. And when I go shopping, I can be impatient with the cashier who seems to take forever just to get the price for that one unmarked item. And the traffic?I don't even want to talk about that.

But what about you? Would you have made room for that young couple on a cold, winter's night? What about that shopper who's in such a hurry to make that return? Are you willing to step aside and let them get ahead in the line? Or what about that harried sales clerk? Would you give them a smile and maybe a warm cup of coffee? On this cold winter's night, will you take a little extra time with your wife or husband, your parent, your child, your good friend? Is the inn of your heart open to the Christ who would enter in the stroke-crooked grin of your old friend, the gentle sigh of a loved one or the cooing of a baby?

Beloved people of God, what would you give the Christ child?

The Magi, whom we call the Wise Men, were said to have traveled great distances to bring gifts to the newborn King. Melchior, said to be the oldest of the kings, was from Arabia or India. Legend tells us that he'd waited all his life for the star. When he saw it, he took the most precious things he had, symbolized by gold, to lay at the feet of the Messiah.

Gaspar, said to be the youngest, though young is a relative term here, was said to have been sentimental and brought frankincense laced with gold?an African aromatic known to symbolize prayer. He gave his devotion to the Christ child.

Balthazar, said to have traveled the longest and furthest, so that his clothing was tattered by the time he reached Bethlehem, must have borrowed clothing from one of the other kings. His gift, myrrh, was an aromatic resin taken from the bark of thorny African trees that symbolizes human suffering. Believed to be a true prince of Africa, he gave the Christ child his own sacrifice and the truth that leadership always brings suffering with it.

What shall we bring to the child Christ?

Perhaps like Melchior before us we might bring our most precious things...

Those we love most dearly?to whom we would make the Christ child known.
The success we cling to most closely?that passes so quickly.
This life itself with all of its ups and downs, its opportunities to share or withhold.
These precious things we might set before the babe of Bethlehem. Maybe like Gaspar, we could set our devotion before the manger...

Laying our fears before him, we could choose instead trust.
Placing our pride at his feet, we could choose lives of simple service.
Setting in front of this child Prince our needs for control of everything and everybody, we too could pray and trust God.
Or, like Balthazar, we could bring our sacrifice...

And not have to have the last word this Christmas.
Nor need everything to be just right in order for us to participate in the Christmas joy.
We could bring the sacrifice of our tattered and torn hopes and dreams and let the Christ child clothe us in the splendor of Christmas.
Beloved people of God, will you take Christ home with you this Christmas?

Well, the pastor was frantic. When he arrived early that Christmas morning, to make sure everything was just right, everything seemed to be in order. In fact, it was beautiful. But it all changed when he'd stopped at the almost life-sized Nativity Set. Standing there in preparation to meditate a bit before the manger, he realized the Christ child was gone. And now he was looking everywhere, and it was nowhere to be found. It could not have been mislaid or lost. Someone had stolen the baby out of the manger itself. Later, when the congregation had gathered for worship, the pastor informed them of the theft. In a voice of incredulity, he visually scanned those people whom he knew and loved, and he told them he couldn't understand such a callous act. And, in no uncertain terms, he informed them the Baby Jesus must be returned.

And he waited and waited. The manger remained empty the rest of the day. Later that afternoon, depressed and defeated, he was walking through the wintry streets when he saw Tommy. Shabbily dressed against the cold, Tommy was proudly walking a bright and shining new red wagon, and the pastor knew how much his parents would have had to scrimp and save for that Christmas present and with the surge of Christmas spirit again in his heart, he hurried to wish Tommy a merry Christmas.

Coming up to Tommy and his wagon, the pastor saw the wagon wasn't empty. The stolen baby Jesus was in the wagon. Running in front of Tommy, he knelt down face to face. The pastor's face was grim and disappointed. He told Tommy that stealing was very wrong and how the entire congregation had been hurt by his action. And Tommy's eyes filled with penitential tears. And then Tommy spoke up, "But, Pastor, I, I didn't steal Jesus. It wasn't like that at all." And wiping tears from his face, Tommy swallowed hard and said, "Well, it's just that I've been asking Jesus for a red wagon for Christmas for a long time, an-and, you see, I promised him when I got it, he'd be the first one I took out for a ride."

Tonight, on this holy night, I want to invite you to take Jesus home with you. Oh, not the one made of rock and plaster, plastic or wood, lying in that manger in your Nativity Set or the Nativity Set at church. That Jesus is already there. Take the living Christ home with you. The only inn he cares to find shelter within is the inn of your heart, your home, your life. And if you, like the pastor in our story, have misjudged another, take Jesus home with you and tell them. And ask for their forgiveness. If another has sinned against you and you may be pretending nothing happened, or perhaps you may not even be speaking with them today, take Jesus home with you. Talk with them. Make that phone call. Forgive. Be reconciled and make this a holy, merry Christmas of love and peace and joy. Amen.

Let us pray.
Lord Jesus Christ, we ask only that you would make your home within our lives, that the glow of this Christmas season would be the healing touch of your love in our relationships, that the singing of the angel choir would be the sound of our hearts praising you as we reach out to those in need. We ask these things in your name. Amen.