Thomas Are, Jr. - Christmas at Luke's House


We have been invited to spend Christmas at Luke's house.  Luke's house is not easy to find.  The truth is more than a few folks will drive right by it and have no idea who is inside.  You will have to make your way, as there is no public transportation in Luke's neighborhood. Other Gospel writers live more in the center of things, but not Luke.  He's off the beaten path, way out on the edge of town.  It's a simple place.  You may mistake it for a family farm, like the ones that used to dot the American landscape. Hay is bailed to feed the animals. There are sheep grazing nearby. There's a real manger out back. It's not nostalgia. It's not a sweet part of the story. The manger makes Luke angry. There is no reason the world should not have made room for this baby. There are too many people for whom the world makes no room.

Once inside his home, there's a tree in the corner decorated with ornaments that are handmade.  Construction paper and glitter and such...there is an angel on top of the tree. The angel has a name, Gabriel. Names are important to Luke. And one of the most important names is Mary.

That may be the most surprising thing about Christmas at Luke's house. We have grown so accustomed to the story, we need to remember that it's a bit surprising to hear this story from Mary. I can't tell you much about this young woman. Over at Matthew's house, they talk about Joseph, and they are quite proud of his heritage. They have gone on and can trace Joseph's family tree all the way back to Abraham.

At Luke's house they can tell you a good bit about the heritage of Zechariah and Elizabeth, but Mary - like Christmas itself, Mary just seems to drop out of nowhere. She must have family, but I couldn't tell you the first thing about where she came from, or how she got here, other than the angel Gabriel called her by name.  "Mary," he said.

It's no small thing, in this world that all too often makes no room for you, to have the messenger of God call you by name. Names are important to Luke.

The other important thing to Luke is the baby. If you go to Luke's house, you just might get to hold the baby. That would be something, wouldn't it? Something happens to us when we hold a baby. The first time it can almost scare you to death, they are so small and vulnerable and soft, and they have that baby smell.  They don't do anything, but you just can't take your eyes off of a baby. And when you hold a baby, it's hard not to have hope. 

It was decades ago now, but I still remember that moment when my daughter arrived.  It had been a long day and night of pain and perspiration for my wife. It had been a long day and night of me wanting to help and of feeling nothing so much as helpless.

We didn't know that she was a girl until she was born. She's grown up now and I could spend the rest of the day telling you about her, but at the time she was born I didn't know anything. I didn't know if she would love music or want to play soccer. I didn't know if she would be good at math or want to be a writer. I didn't know if she would grow up to be an attorney or just grow up to need one. I didn't know anything about her, except I knew she belonged to me. That's not a statement about genetics. That's a statement about my heart. Then Cindy, our nurse, swaddled her and said, "Would you like to hold her?"  Not even the poets have invented the vocabulary to describe that moment. I was so overwhelmed and a little bit scared too. I knew nothing about her, except that she belonged to me.

It's a bit like that at Luke's house. The baby is there. A baby "born of woman as is every child yet born of God's power as was no other child," and this baby belongs to you. But even more so, because of this baby, you can trust that you belong to God. As a child of God, you have a place in this world.  

Have you ever felt like you didn't belong?

It was the Fall of 1989. I found myself going to the main library on the Campus of Yale University.  The library is built like a Gothic cathedral. Columns rising up to a beautiful arched ceiling.  The card catalogues file drawers were lined up like pews in the nave. In one transept I found the reference room and the other transept newspapers, I think.  The chancel was the circulation desk, and behind the desk was a mural that looked like renaissance paintings of figures representing the various disciplines.

I found the number to the book I wanted, but I couldn't find the stacks. Now, to get to the stacks you had to go around behind the circulation desk, in a dark hallway, up some stairways - it wasn't easily marked.  I looked everywhere. I looked among the pews, in both transepts. I just couldn't find any books in this library. I went to the circulation desk and there met the librarian, complete with the hair in a bun, the half glasses with the cords attached. I asked, "Do ya'll have books here?" She said, "You are not from around here, are you?"

The feeling of not belonging, of the world having no room for you. No, that's not a new feeling, and it's not uncommon.

At Luke's house you won't find the folks who are at the center of things. Luke's house is filled with folks that the world has passed by. Luke's house is filled with folks who for one reason or another have never known, or have forgotten, that they belong in this world, and that they belong to God. They are the ones who need to hold this baby that the world had no room for. 

Mrs. McIntyre inherited a run-down farm somewhere in the rural south in some yesterday.  This is the way Flannery O'Connor tells it in her wonderful short story, "The Displaced Person."  Mrs. McIntyre has a few African American workers which she calls by another designation. Mr. and Mrs. Shortley are a couple who manage the farm.  The displaced person is Mr. Guizac, a war refugee from Poland.[1]  Mr. Guizac knows his way around a farm. He can fix anything, grow anything, and he works like a machine. But he doesn't know the first thing about American racism. He crosses the line by treating everyone the same.  Even though Mr. Guizac is the best help she has ever had, Mrs. McIntyre determines she must get rid of him. She "has no other choice," she says. She knows he has nowhere else to go - he is a war refugee.  But she says, "It's not my responsibility that Mr. Guizac has nowhere to go...I don't find myself responsible for all the extra people in the world."[2] It's a tragedy, she admits. But what can she do? She's not responsible. 

Later Mrs. McIntyre was talking to a priest.  The priest was suggesting that the Christian faith shaped her relationship with neighbor. She said, "Father Flynn! As far as I'm concerned, Christ was just another [displaced person.] I'm going to let that man go," she said.  "I don't have any obligation to him."[3]

The way Flannery O'Connor writes the story, when she says, "I'm going to let that man go," you can't tell if she means Mr. Guizac or Jesus. But the truth is, it doesn't matter. If she lets either of them go, she lets them both go. "I'm not responsible for all the extra people in the world," she says.

Mrs. McIntyre would have done well to hold this baby. Because the remarkable thing that Luke knows in his marrow is that this baby means there are no extra people in God's world. This baby means God is calling every last one by name.

Rebecca was a member of a church I served. She was on the role anyway, but she never came.  None of us really knew her. We decided to visit every family in the church one winter, so Peter went to Rebecca's home, knocked on her door.  Her yard was not kept. The shrubbery was overgrown.  Through the door he heard her. "Who is it?" "Hi Rebecca, it's Peter from the church." Rebecca opened the door but left the chain on the latch. Peter said, "Good morning, Rebecca, I'm from the church."  She said, "I don't go to that church." Peter said, "Well, we haven't seen you in a while, but you are still part of the family and I just wanted to come by."  "I don't go there," she said. Peter noticed she had a coat on. It was cold, temperature in the 30's, but she was wearing a coat inside. She closed the door.

Peter said, "Well, that went well. I did what I was supposed to do." He went back to work.  He had a space heater under his desk to keep his feet warm.  As that heater cycled on, he thought about Rebecca. At lunch he took the heater back to her house and knocked on the door. "It's Peter," he said. "I'm from the church." "I know who you are. You were just here; don't you remember that?" "Yes ma'am.  But, I thought you might want this heater."  She was silent for a moment and looked at him for a long time. "Could you show me how to turn it on?" she asked. "Sure."

Rebecca was a hermit.  She lived in a four-room house that was cluttered with the stuff of her life. She had no heat and little food.  She had been a professional dancer at one time, but her legs were long gone, and alcohol had taken much of the rest of her. He plugged the heater in and showed her how at night she could take it into the bedroom. It started a connection between them. He would stop by. "It's Peter, from the church. I have a few groceries." "It's Peter, from the church, I thought I would trim your shrubbery." "Hi Rebecca, it's Peter, from the church."

Three years later we had a memorial service for Rebecca. In her simple will she left her savings account to the church $3,211. Her note said, "I want the church to have this, because when everybody else in the world had, that man from the church refused to leave me alone."

The remarkable thing that Luke knows in his marrow is that this baby means there are no extra people in God's world. This baby means God is calling every last one by name. Just hold this baby one time and you will know it's the truth.

Let us pray.

Gracious God, we believe. Help our unbelief. In Christ's name we pray. Amen.


[1] For those who choose to read this short story, I would suggest that the actual displaced person is Mrs. McIntyre. 

[2] Flannery O'Connor, "The Displaced Person" in Flannery O'Connor: The Complete Stories p. 226

[3] O'Connor, p. 229