Dedicated to the movement. #blacklivesmatter
This message was delivered to Emerson Unitarian Universalist Chapel on Christmas Eve 2014.
Scripture Reading: Luke 1:26-33.
Scripture Reading: Luke 1: 39-42, 46-55.
Scripture Reading: Luke 2: 1-7.
There is a story that is making its way on the internet right now. I don’t think it’s a new story but it is capturing the hearts of many. I want to share this story with you as a way to enter into the meaning of Christmas.
There was this boy named Wally, and although he was nine years old, he was in grade 3, when most kids his age would be in grade 4. Wally was in grade 3 because he had a different way of being. It took him longer and he needed more help to do things that many other children could do easily. Even though he was taller and bigger than all the other kids, it didn’t seem to make a difference to anyone. He was helpful, willing, and tremendously generous.
Well, Christmas came along, and plans were made for the school pageant. The teacher thought about what role would be best for Wally. She chose the innkeeper because he had only one line to remember, which was “No! Be Gone!” The teacher thought surely Wally would be able to remember that! The rehearsals went well, and Wally seemed to have his one line all ready! It looked like it would be a great night! As the pageant started, Wally stood proudly his father’s bathrobe holding the fake lantern by the door of the cardboard inn they had made in art class. As the children who portrayed Mary and Joseph in their parents’ bathrobes came near him. Wally was beside himself. He was so excited! It was almost more than he could bear!
“Sir,” Joseph said, “We have asked everywhere in vain! We have traveled far and are tired. Can we stay?”
Wally said nothing. The teacher loudly whispered, “No! Be Gone!”
Wally rose to attention. “No!” said Wally. “Be gone!”
“Please,” said Joseph. “This is my wife. She is heavy with child. Surely you must have some small corner for her!”
Wally looked pained and confused, but one look from the teacher, and he turned back to Mary and Joseph and said, “No! Be gone!”
Joseph sadly placed his arm around Mary and Mary laid her head upon her husband’s shoulder, and the two of them started to move away. Wally, in his mind, no longer stood with a fake lantern outside a cardboard inn wearing his father’s large bathrobe. He was the Innkeeper in Bethlehem on Christmas Eve, standing on the dark dusty road outside his inn, watching a tired couple walk away. He couldn’t take it. He ran to Mary and Joseph, shouting, “Don’t go Joseph! You bring Mary back! You can have my room!”
The whole audience erupted in laughter, and Wally remembered where he was and felt ashamed because he forgot his line. But his teacher came on the stage and hugged him. She told him it was all good. Even though Wally had gotten his line wrong, he got the message of Christmas right. He had made room for the child, room for its parents. He had not turned them away.
What I want us to think about tonight is what we need to make room for. The Scripture verses we read tonight are all about people who made room. Mary literally made room in her body for new life. Her cousin Elizabeth made room in her spirit and in her home for Mary and the child she was carrying. Joseph made room for an unexpected unfavorable birth. And the innkeeper/Wally made room for a couple who desperately needed a place to rest.
Mary made room in her heart for the vision of what her child would help to bring to her very troubled world. This vision asked her to do one of the most dangerous things of all – hope. And why is hope so dangerous? Because there is always the risk of getting hurt when you open up your heart. What if what you hope for doesn’t come to pass? What if you keep being disappointed? What do you do with your broken heart? Is it not better to give up hope at all and leave the world to be what it is?
Rev. Jim Wallis, a well known progressive minister, writes that, “Hope is not a feeling. It is a decision — a choice you make based on what we call faith or moral conscience, whatever most deeply motivates you.”
Mary decided to have hope in a complex time filled with sadness, often filled with incredible violence that burst through into the ordinary, with deep injustices that just hurt their hearts and crashed into their lives. Her time was often filled with despair and doubt that things could ever change. It was very dangerous to hope because the people of Israel lived under the cruel occupation of the Roman Empire. It was dangerous to trust anyone. It was dangerous to speak freely. It was dangerous to travel. There was one law for the Romans and another law for the Jews and you better not forget which law applied to you. Sometimes no matter what you did, no matter how law abiding you tried to be, the system could and would bring you down.
This reality is captured in the scriptures when Mary and Joseph had to travel to Bethlehem to register for their taxes. Actual history of that time shows us that there was no need to do this. The Romans had one of the best record keeping systems in antiquity. They could have registered all the Jewish people from wherever they lived. Instead, they made them travel to their town of origin. It was a way to shame them, to remind them that they were under occupation. It was way to drain them of morale and money.
So can you imagine, in that context, the courage it took for Mary to burst into song when she got to her cousin Elizabeth’s and to sing these hopeful words:
“ His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants for ever.’
We can hear these words, regardless of whether we believe in God some of the time, all of the time, or none of the time. We can hear these words, regardless of our political leanings or cultural backgrounds. We can hear these words of Mary’s as words of deep resistance and courage. She chose to make room in her whole being to be in solidarity and hope with all people who suffer unjustly.
The Christmas message is that we too are called to chose to hope for the things that we often dare not hope for, even and perhaps especially when it feels dangerous to our spirits and our hearts and even our bodies to do so. It is daring and absolutely necessary to hope that we will someday live in a world where love is the law of the land and where all people live with dignity and worth. Christmas asks us to do this brave thing, to make room for hope, every day of our lives. We are called to hope for the long haul, on days when it feels like nothing can change, and on days when it seems that somehow new life percolates up from the mass of humanity, from the lowly child in a manger, from a young woman who carries an unexpected child, from the man who walks with her, from a 9 year old boy who forgets his lines and speaks from his heart.
Our liberal religious tradition promises us that love always has the last word. That means that our hope is well placed. It is a brave and a wise choice because we know that it bends with the arc of history. We know what we’re moving towards and we know that we are part of the journey to healing, justice, and wholeness. That’s what we are called to put our faith in.
So this Christmas Eve, when you look at the world around you, when you look in your heart, when you look at those closest to you, when you look at our beleaguered city, what is knocking at your door? What you being asked to make room for?
On this special night, let us choose hope. Let us tenderly and gently hold onto the promise of healing, forgiveness, and justice for all people. Let us put our hope in the promise of an everlasting, all powerful, unfailing love, that lives and moves and has its being in all things including each of us, for this love will bring wholeness and healing to our world and beyond.
May the spirit be with you and yours this Christmas Eve. Amen and blessed be