Summary: Christmas Eve 1988: When Jesus comes as an infant, there is no respect, for he is the child of an unwed mother and is poor. When Jesus comes to the end of his life, there is no respect. But He redeems His status and can redeem ours.
Comedian Rodney Dangerfield has made en entire career out of a single piece of business and a single punch line: "I don't get no respect". He will regale you with tales of his childhood, when the other kids used him as a punching bag and called him a host of unflattering names, and then he sums it up, "I don't get no respect". He will tell us how his wife flirts with other men, how his children charge hour-long transatlantic phone calls on his credit card, how even his mother pretends not to recognize him, and he writes it all off in one all- purpose quip, “I don't get no respect."
Now you and I know that in many ways Rodney Dangerfield is a model of the human experience. That's what makes a comic work; if he can take the ordinary failings of humanity and tell them in a way that makes us see ourselves, it's funny, but it also connects with us. It speaks to what we already know to be true. We don't get no respect either. So much of the human predicament is tied up right here: that we so long to be held up in honor, we so long to be thought of as worthwhile, we so urgently require that someone, someone value us ... but so much of the time: no respect. No respect.
A salesman calls in the middle of dinner, and you tell him you're busy, but that makes no difference. He is going to do his thing; no respect.
A driver in a tremendous hurry to get to the next red light cuts you off and scoots in front of you on a busy street, and you 'offer up some theological language and test your car's horn. You are upset, not just because there is some danger involved, but primarily because: no respect. Just no respect.
Our children shout at us, the boss swears at us, our spouses ignore us, the merchants bark at us, and even the pastor seems to be accusing us of something most of the time. No respect; we don't get no respect.
Now you can do with that as Rodney Dangerfield does: you can laugh at it and make jokes about it to hide the pain and mask the anger. Or you can tilt against that great windmill by claiming respect, demanding respect, demonstrating your anger against everyone who seems not to honor you properly. Or you can do something else. You can take a third route, you can attempt a third alternative. You can laugh or you can cry or you can do something else -- you can redeem. You can redeem.
Consider the circumstances when Jesus came. When Jesus came into this world he was born under conditions and in family surroundings that brought him no respect. Here is Mary, not yet married, but bearing a child. If today we have become a bit blasé about that; if today we look the other way some of the time; we still have problems with it. We still know that this is not God's will for a man and a woman; but I don't suppose we still think of the child in the way they did years ago. Today we might feel sorry for the child; today we might wonder how a single mother is going to take care of the boy; but what we feel for the child is some anxiety, some worry.
Twenty centuries ago – in fact, much more recent than that -- people expressed hostility to such children. People attached names of opprobrium to such children. Somehow it was not only that the father and the mother had sinned, but that the child too lacked worth, and so I can only imagine that in his childhood our Jesus must have heard the whispers and felt the stares and known the talk put out by the good folk, the decent and respectable folk. When Jesus came, there was no respect for him where it counted. Now it's all very well, you know, to have adoring shepherds and gift-bringing wise men, but, you know, those folks all went home. Those folks didn't make it up to Nazareth, where you had to walk the streets and live with people every day. No respect, no honor for Jesus when he came.
Consider the stable ... no room in the inn ... and precious little respect, I guess, for a mother and an infant on that night. On the first Sunday in Advent, when I preached from the prologue to John's Gospel and spoke of how it portrays Jesus as one who came to his own home but his own people did not receive him – of how our Jesus began life as a homeless person -- it struck many of you. Many of you said that you had never seen that parallel before. But here it is in its simplest form: when he comes to earth and is born, word made flesh, God's word, God's truth, embodying the most sublime of all the world's wisdom and knowledge, there is no respect for that.