Summary: We need the joyful reminder that God is present with us not only in life’s most difficult moments but especially in the midst of life’s tragedies.
The Best Gifts Come in Small Packages / Matthew 1:18-25
Advent 4, Year A; Downsville Baptist Church; 23 Dec. 2001
A little boy and girl were singing their favorite Christmas carol in church the Sunday before Christmas. The boy concluded "Silent Night" with the words, "Sleep in heavenly beans." "No," his sister corrected, "not beans, peas." Wally was a 7th grade student who was bigger than any of the other students in his Sunday school class. His mother had been an alcoholic when he was born, & as a result, Wally just did not have all the mental capabilities that the rest of his classmates had. But somehow he managed to get by. Christmas time came & his class decided to put on a Christmas pageant. Since he was the biggest, Wally was selected to be the innkeeper. After all, the innkeeper is kind of a villain in the Christmas drama. So they coached Wally to be just as mean as he possibly could be. Well, the night came for the Christmas play. And in it, Mary & Joseph came to Bethlehem, went to the Inn & knocked on its door. Wally opened the door & said, "What do you want?" just as mean & gruff as he could possibly be. Joseph said, "We need a room. We need a place to stay tonight." "Well, you’ll have to stay someplace else," said Wally, "because there’s no room here. There’s no room in the Inn." Joseph said, "But my wife’’s expecting a baby just any time now. Isn’’t there someplace where we can stay, where we are protected from the cold & where she can deliver her child?" "No," said Wally, "There’’s no room here." Then suddenly there was a silence on the stage. It was one of those embarrassing moments when you know that someone has forgotten the lines. From behind the curtains you could hear the prompter saying, "Begone. Begone." Wally was supposed to speak, but for some reason he had choked up & forgotten to say "Begone." Finally, after he had been coached for several long seconds, Wally managed to say, "Begone." Mary & Joseph sadly turned to leave. But just as they did, Wally said, "Wait a minute. Wait a minute. You can have my room." The director of the play was ready to pull out her hair because she knew that the whole Christmas pageant had been ruined. But had it? Maybe Wally, better than anybody else communicated the real spirit of Christmas. "You can have my room."
Perhaps children understand Christmas more purely than the rest of us. Oh to be sure, they tend to focus on Santa Claus and presents more than the rest of us; but they are the ones who are capable of standing genuinely in awe of the fact that God became a baby. I don’t think we adults would have fit in too well at the stable when Jesus was being born. We think we understand the significance of the event, and we would likely try to convince the shepherds to join us in singing “Joy to the World.” We would ask Joseph and Mary if it would be okay if we led everyone present in a word of prayer. Grownups can tend to ruin the most majestic of moments with words, even if they be reverent words. However, put one of our children in the midst of that stable on the first Christmas and they might behave like any of us should. They would be silently shocked. God was being born, and what can you say about that? Absolutely nothing. Instead you are just amazed and somehow thankful and silent tears might flow down your cheeks as a testimony that you are witnessing the birth of grace. It’s hard enough to explain the idea of God being with us. It is impossible to explain God with us as a little baby boy named Jesus. And so you don’t try to explain it—you just experience it.
The miracle of birth is an amazing thing. Many of you here have experienced giving birth first hand. Perhaps some of you fathers were present in the delivery room when your child was born. I wonder if Joseph had to learn any of the same lessons I learned during that experience. First, I discovered that a woman giving birth is always right and that you need to apologize a lot. Second, you need to have breath mints. The last thing your wife wants during this process is a husband with bad breath. Third, don’t say you understand what she’s going through—you don’t. Fourth, don’t wear rings on your fingers. The ring will be imbedded into your other fingers. In all seriousness though, don’t forget that moment in which you first lay eyes upon that beautiful new life. In your mind, you’ve known for nine months that a little life was growing. But your heart doesn’t catch up with your mind until that moment you see a new person that will always be a part of who you are. Now I’m guessing that none of us in this room would claim our children to be the Messiah, no matter how wonderful we think they are. We’ve seen them throw too many temper tantrums, smart off to us too many times, and outright disobey us to think there is anything divine about them. However, something beautiful and mysterious happens when we first see that wonderful baby boy or girl that reminds us that God is with us.