In those days a decree went out that there was room in royal coffers for more coins, that there was room in the Empire for more roads, that there was room in the closets of the Generals for more fancy clothes, and room in the stables for more horses and chariots, so the people were expected to make room for a census. They were to make room, put aside their work and travel to their ancestral lands to be counted. They were being counted so they could make room in their own purses and pocket books by paying taxes to Caesar to fund his war machine and their own oppression.
Joseph had made room for an inconvenient occurrence, a fiancé unexpectedly pregnant, and he wasn’t the father. Joseph was making room for a strange explanation of where this child came from. Now that he had accepted Mary as his betrothed, he made room for her to travel with him to Bethlehem, even though she slowed him down a great deal. He made room because he needed to be present when the child was born to claim him as his own and to name him. He needed to make it clear to all those who mocked him and might hurt Mary and the child or throw them out of town, that he took responsibility for them.
The time came, that there was no more room within Mary for the growing baby, so her body prepared itself for the birth. She had brought along strips of cloth to wrap him in. The strips of cloth had room for the baby or whatever body needed to be wrapped.
But the inn didn’t have room. The homes didn’t have room. They might have found room if Joseph had some gold coins, or nice clothes, or an important position, but he didn’t. The animals did have room. There was room in the hay, in the manger, in the barn, so that’s where the little guy lay for his first night on earth, a fitting place for the one that would have nowhere to lay his head as he crisscrossed the countryside as an adult, in the lowliest of places among the lowliest of people, sharing the good news of who and what matters in the Kingdom of God and who and what the Kingdom has room for.
The fields had room for shepherds and sheep. The sheep could eat healthy grass and drink clean water. The shepherds would move them from place to place so that the fields could recover—that’s how much room they had. The shepherds had room for the songs. All was quiet on that night. They would have heard the faintest cry, it was so quiet. How overwhelming those angel songs must have been! The sky had room for an angel and it’s glory shining in the sky. There was nothing else to look at but a few twinkling stars that night, no distractions there in the fields. And not only one angel, but there was room for a whole multitude of heavenly hosts, breaking through the night sky to sing their praises at the birth of the Messiah.
The hearts of the shepherds had plenty of room for fear. They were ready for wolves. They were ready for bad weather. They were ready for anything out there that might threaten their flocks, but they were not ready for a full-on angel choir but they made room anyway. They had room in their ears for a song, praising God and declaring peace and favor on earth.
It turns out, the shepherds had room in their sleep schedule, in their sheep-watching schedule for some good news, for a baby shower, a very strange miracle—a baby sleeping in an animal trough. They had room for haste! They did not have room for dilly-dallying. They hurried to his side to witness this miracle taking place, the first visitors of the in
They made room in their limited view, from their lowly position to see something wondrous taking place. They had room to see the Messiah come to earth for them—not in a palace, not in a maternity ward, not among luxuries, not among the high-society types. Here he lay among the animals, asleep on the hay, wrapped in rags, coming into the world whether there was room for him or not.
Our hearts are full of songs. Our bellies are full of cookies and coffee. Our minds are full of Christmas plans. We have room for presents and trees and lights and food and lots and lots of sugar. But do we have room for the lowliest infant child, the pregnant teenager, the out-of-towners out of gas by the side of the road, injured animal, loneliest person, hungry neighbor? Do we have room for Jesus? Do we have room to truly see the humanity in other people? Do we have room to allow ourselves to be moved by the song? Do we have room to hear the song, not just a song of comfort, but a song of challenge about who is powerful and who matters to God? It’s the nobodies that God made a place with, a home with, because they had room for him. Will we place ourselves among them? Do we find ourselves in their midst?
The shepherds had room for one more thing—that was a story. They talked of nothing else for ages after that. They had been so astounded, so honored, so amazed by this gift. Now, everywhere they went, herding sheep, the told the story of the newborn in Bethlehem, to every new person they came across, how they found him among the animals, the Messiah, a helpless, tiny babe, come to the likes of them, to the likes of us, poor sinners, nobodies, and yet he is born in our midst, right in front of our noses if we have room for him.
The powers of this world did not have room for Jesus, born that night. No sooner was he born than Herod was trying to get rid of him. His family fled to Egypt because there was no room for him in his own country. When he came in his ministry, he found room among the ill, the imprisoned, the blind, the hungry, the women and children, the discounted. But he didn’t find room among the priests, the important, the kings, the elite, the landowners, the comfortable. He so offended those who were full of themselves, that they turned him over to be tortured and killed.
But death had no room for him who is the living one, and after three days in the belly of that whale, it spat him upon the shore and he went walking again among those who had room for him and were prepared to tell his story as the shepherds once had along their hills and paths. The disciples told the story until it was passed on to us this night, all of us who made room in our celebrations to come and hear again the story of God’s love. But being here doesn’t tell us if we have truly made room for Jesus. Our actions reveal what we make room for and what we don’t.
On the longest night about 80 people gathered in a cold church parking lot for a vigil for those who lost their lives on the streets of Portland this year, the houseless, the forgotten. We were blessed by Pastor Elizabeth before we walked to the site a shelter that is under construction. She told us that a vigil is when people keep awake when they usually would be sleeping, and that now was the time to wake up to the suffering of God’s children. As we walked we were invited to keep silence and reflect on the holy that we encountered. I looked as I walked for where I would try to find shelter if I was out in this cold. Where would Joseph and Mary stop to deliver her baby? There was room for a taxidermy shop, a beauty parlour, a brew pub, but there was no room for the Son of God. But God’s son was born that night and every night since then into this cold world. God’s son is being born tonight out in the cold.
We get to decide everyday what to make room for. Do we only make room for those who are just like us or who have something to offer us, to make us feel important? Do we only make room for work and making money and being entertained? Or do we look within ourselves and clear out the things that aren’t serving us or anyone else to make room for the prince of peace that is coming into the world? Do we make room for nobodies and prisoners and aliens? Do we make room for the sick and suffering and the poor?
Jesus came to show us that the Kingdom of God has room for us, even us lowly sinners. Jesus came to be born among us. We are being called this night to hear the angels praise him and join our own praises with theirs. We are invited to run to his barn and welcome him. We are invited to tell the story of how he gave us new life. Open yourselves to God’s love. Let our hearts and our lives prepare him room. Open your eyes. Open your ears. Open your life. Our Savior is among us now. Go out and see him, receive him, love him, serve him.