Mother Katherine’s sermon preached on Dec. 24, 2022, at 10:00 PM

Posted by on Sat, Dec 24, 2022 in Christmas, Feast Days, Sermons

Christmas Eve

Dec. 24, 2022

The first we learn after Jesus’ birth is that his mother wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. No room for them. What if Joseph and Mary had knocked on yours or my door? Taking the story literally, I’m embarrassed to say my first thought is where could I put them? Because the guest bed is covered with books, a bit of ironing to do, gifts to wrap, and stuff that just needing to be put away. A first world problem if ever there was one. The deeper question is, having opened the door, do we make ‘room’ in our souls, in our lives? Tonight you have. 

The story, as told by Luke, unfolds and we listen, letting it speak into our lives. ‘No room’ leads them to the manger, where animals are in for the night and the hay smells sweet (they hope). It is not an inn, but relief comes even here; a place to stop walking, shake off the dust, catch their breath, maybe even sleep. And then —Mary’s labor pains ramp up, and soon her calling out in pain becomes more a scream. Surely it wakes the animals and makes them restless, Joseph wants to cover his ears and wishes he knew the city well enough to find a midwife or elder to help, or another inn. He feels powerless as fear tinges her cries, he sees her anguished face and instinctively holds her. This is where they found room,  where she will have this baby, amidst all of the noise and fear and hay, the smells and animals, during an unwelcome trek to register decreed by Emperor Augustus. This setting is far from ideal—and far from home. And still the Son of God came as any other infant might; into a very real, very human moment, to an ordinary couple, in a time of darkness and danger, a time of unknown future which held both fear and hope. As we let ourselves be guided by their story we learn to look for hope not just in what goes right. We can find it in this messy and imperfect world, and in the wilderness of our own lives and communities. They found a manger to shelter them and gave birth to this Holy Child right there, a miracle shared with the animals and soon shepherds. For those with ‘no room’ there was no witnessing of the miracle of God’s gift. To make room is not an occasional heroic act, it’s a way of being, making room for the Messiah every ordinary day

Who remembers asking or being asked by a child, ‘Why can’t we have Christmas every day?’ The answer, no matter well reasoned, always sounded lame. Any answer that says we just can’t, is wrong! Christmas is every day. Amidst the noise and chaos, trips and work, caregiving, grieving and the celebrations of the life we have —Christ enters in to love us. The presence of Christ is a gift to us, and Christmas is every day. He isn’t waiting until one special day or until new sheets are on the bed, he’s not waiting until you have the perfect job or body or home or family or political argument. As Richard Rohr puts it, “The most amazing fact about Jesus, unlike almost any other religious founder, is that he found God in disorder and imperfection – and told us that we must do the same or we would never be content on this earth.” … we must do the same. (The Naked Now, Crossroad Publ., NY, 2009).

I imagine the Bethlehem innkeepers were forever after plagued with fear of missing out, having made no room for the Christ Child to be born. God invites us to do it now. Make room for small miracles arising from disordered chaos, for great ones which surprise or confound us entirely. Make room for joy amidst grief, trust amidst fear, hope when we can’t see it—because God is faithful and loving, and Christmas is every day.

We celebrate Christ’s coming—God’s inbreaking we say— and are reminded that our part is be ready, to watch diligently for those flashes of divine light and grace. Christ’s light is so often in small seemingly unimportant things that we stop looking, our room gets darker. It is in the myriad of ordinary ways and difficult times that the divine light ignites, illumines, and we see we are not alone in Body of Christ.

We start wherever we are, and this is our Bethlehem. The world is a broken and hurting place, we may have learned to ignore the scream it’s birth pains, We too might want to escape, feel at our wit’s end, but might that pandemonium herald Christ waiting to be born in us or in our community? It’s breathtaking to watch come about, isn’t it? The last few years we’re had a pandemic, political upheaval, increased consciousness of our blindness or biases, destruction by hurricane and by a new war. Instead of giving up or ‘going dark’ it leads us to consider what really matters most, and to look more closely at what has (or needs be) of deeper meaning for us. Our lives have shifted, and I’ve seen Christ being born in this community, in you! None of us are the same as before, I think we’re clearer on what drains us, what is from life’s pandemonium and which is Christlike, hopeful. I see a faith community right here, more deliberate, certain, fully present, and selfless in making choices, in making room.

We relish this story because it makes real the truth that he came. Came to us. His is a gift which can never be undone. ‘Returning’ this gift isn’t getting rid of it, it’s about our making more by giving his love and presence to others. Christ is constantly being born into this world, diligently seeking those who will hear love’s call to follow and go with him. How odd that we often find the sustaining light of Christ more readily in darkness, and how long do we stumble around without looking?

As night gets deeper, the barn grows calmer, animals sleep. Hay and dust are settling, the baby now nestles in arms of first time parents, as perhaps you were held. Though exhausted, grace illuminates their hearts and they breathe a moment of quietly sacred love and great glory! (Well, right up until those rowdy angel-informed shepherds “went with haste” to find them there!) As we share another Christmas, God invites is to make room for this Christ Child. His extraordinary gifts of love and joy will amaze us, and come in the ordinary moments. We do this from wherever we are, with the time at hand. We make a little room, and offer it to God. 

Brother Curtis Almquist, SSJE, writes this is a time to pray our gratitude for life’s many gifts—not exactly earth-shaking to hear this from a monastic or a priest, and then —unexpectedly it is; “Gratitude makes the good things even more real,” he says, but the gift he especially had in mind is fear. “Fear is a gift to God, and these are uncertain times. Give God your fear… which is something that God does not otherwise have. Give God your fear, however it’s wrapped up. That’s your Christmas gift for God.” Don’t judge it as irrational or imagined, we all have them. You’ll know them as things you cannot command and control. Brother Curtis’ advice is to “open your heart and open your hands and offer to God your clutching fear, which may be the very thing that makes room within your soul for the gift of God’s provision to face whatever it is that is coming.” (Gift, Br. Curtis Almquist, SSJE, Post from December 23, 2022)

Mary was afraid. Joseph was afraid. The shepherds were afraid. Being met with the power of God must be formidable! No wonder that every time the angels of God say, ‘Fear not!’ No wonder God came into Bethlehem as a vulnerable infant, as one of us. Jesus knew first hand our vulnerability and fears, our hopes and joys. The only way for us to experience his peace, for us to ‘fear not’, is by giving, gifting, it over to him with intention, (and usually much repetition) —as something increasingly hard for us to carry. 

We can trust those words, ’Do not be afraid’ because what follows is his birth into ourselves where we make room. It can be Christmas every day as we unwrap his gifts in our lives and share them generously with others. Tonight we are comforted by his presence and by his promise. Tonight his gift is what the angels proclaimed, “to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.” It is Christ saying, I am with you. This night and always.


© 2022 The Rev. Katherine Sedwick. All rights reserved. Posted with permission.

Post will be removed at 10:00 PM on Tue., Dec. 24, 2024.