Sermon preached at Mt. Moriah Community Church’s Christmas Concert, Farmville, December 23, 2015
No place. No room.
Adam and Eve were in the garden trying to cover up their sins. Ashamed of what they had done, ashamed of who they had become, they saw no way out. So they went into hiding. But what they did not know was that even if they used all of the fig leaves in the garden, there was no place on earth they could hide from God.
As the sun was about to set on them, literally and figuratively, they heard a rustling in the trees, footsteps in the grass, for God showed up! And although they could not go back to the good old days and undo their mistakes, God surprised them by using God’s own hands, making garments of skin and clothing them with grace.
Consumed with hate, Cain kills his brother Abel. He is exiled from the garden into the land of Nod. But just when he thought his new place would be God-forsaken, God forgotten, God-cursed, God showed up and put a mark of protection, a mark of mercy on Cain which would stay on him for the rest of his life.
Abraham and Sarah were enjoying retirement. Their old age, frail bodies and declining health told them that there was no way they could ever be used by God. They were in no place to ever make a difference. But just when they thought they could just sit back, watch the Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy and just turn in, God showed up with a purpose that was so miraculous, it caused them to laugh out loud!
Moses was a fugitive on the run. Running from his sins. Running from himself. Running from God. Then, just when he thought he was in a place where he had run away from it all, a bush suddenly bursts into flames. God showed up. God showed up saying, “I’m sending you Moses, yes, you Moses, a sinner with a speech impediment and a thousand other excuses, I am anointing you to stand up to the Pharaoh to proclaim good news to the poor, freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to set the oppressed free.”
Soon after the children Israel were set free from slavery, they they hit a dead end with Moses in the wilderness. Pharaoh’s army was advancing behind them and the Red Sea stood before him. There was no way to escape. No place to go. Then, when they had all but given up, complaining to Moses that they would have been better off dead back in Egypt, at the very moment they lost all faith and all hope, God showed up. God showed up and made a way when there was no way. God showed up and brought hope in the midst of despair, faith in the midst of doubt, victory in the midst of defeat and life in the midst of certain death.
It was a dangerous time in a dangerous world. Mary, who was with child, and her betrothed husband Joseph, were on the road to pay taxes to a puppet king in an occupied territory. The road was long, and being with child made the road especially difficult. And to make things more difficult, when it was time for the baby to be born, they discovered that there was no room in the inn. There was no room.
But this was not the first time God heard these words. There is no room. There is no place. There is no way. There is no hope.
So, as God had proved over and over throughout history that there is nothing in all of creation that can separate the world from God’s love, God, once again, showed up! In spite of every demonic power that tried to thwart God’s coming, God came.
And the good news of Christmas is that God still comes. And there is nothing in all of creation, nor things above nor below, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor life nor death that can stop God from coming.
Last Sunday I shared the story about a certain Christmas play that a local church was presenting. You know the kind. I used to be in one every year when I was growing up. Three boys playing shepherds are bare-footed, wearing bath robes with towels wrapped around their heads and carrying long sticks. And three more boys playing wise men wearing cardboard Burger-King crowns wrapped in Reynolds Wrap are carrying boxes decorated with left-over Christmas garland. They all walk up on the chancel, greet Mary and Joseph, and bow down before the baby Jesus.
Well, during one particular play, after the wise men and shepherds came and bowed before Jesus, a spokesperson for the wise men made an announcement: “We three kings have traveled from the East to bring the baby Jesus gifts of gold, circumstance and mud.” Of course, laughter filled the sanctuary.
But you know what they say: “out of the mouth of babes.”
The truth is that when God wanted to reveal God’s love for the world, God came to us through the person of Jesus born in Bethlehem to meet us in all of our circumstances.
Through Christ, God came Adam and Eve and God and comes to meet us hiding in our circumstance of sin and shame and offer us forgiveness.
Through Christ, God came to Cane and God comes to meet us in our circumstance of living in a hate-filled, seemingly God-forsaken and God-cursed world and offers us mercy.
Through Christ, God came to Abraham and Sarah and God comes to us to meet us in the circumstance of our old age, tired bodies and declining health and offers us new life.
Through Christ, God came to Moses and God comes to meet us in the circumstance of our wandering and our running and offers us a divine purpose.
Through Christ, God came to the children of Israel and God comes to us in our circumstances of dead ends and utter despair and offers us a new way and a new hope.
Through Christ, God came to Mary and Joseph and God comes to us in the circumstance of being told there is no room for you, there is no place for you, there is no way for you, and there is no hope for you and says, “Oh, yes there is!”
The good news of Christmas is that God comes to us in all of our circumstances and offers us the assurance that there is no circumstance on earth or in heaven beyond God’s amazing grace.
And coming as a human being, coming into the world as a fleshly body, a body made up of dust and water, God comes and joins us in our mud and all of our muck.
Through Christ, God came into and still comes into our muck of pain and offers comfort.
Through Christ, God came into and still comes into our muck of sickness and brings healing.
Through Christ, God came into and still comes into our muck of loneliness and shares divine presence.
Through Christ, God came into and still comes into our muck of fear and gives peace.
The world says that there is no room, that things are not going to get any better. The world says there is no way, that the good old days are long gone. The world says that there is no place where evil will not get the best of you. The world says there is no hope because in the end, everyone dies.
Then a young woman named Mary goes into labor as God says: “I am always working all things together for the good!” A baby cries in the darkness as God says: “The best days of life are always before you.” The child cries in the night as God says: “Although you cannot go back to the good old days, good new days are always coming, even if you are about to draw your last breath!”
The world says: “There is no room. You will never amount to anything. You are a loser. You are insignificant. You are worthless. You are not a good person.”
The world says: “There is no way. No matter how hard you try, sin always has a way of getting the best of you. You’ve made too many mistakes.”
The world says: “There is no place for you as nobody really cares about you.”
The world says: “There is no hope. You and this world would be better off if you were dead. For you, there is no room, no way, no place, no hope.”
Then a baby is wrapped in bands of cloth born to underserving, unwed teenagers in an occupied land, as God says: “I love you just as you are, and I come to wrap you in my mercy, clothe you with my grace. I know your sins and I forgive you. I will always be with you and never away from you. I will always be for you and never against you. I will always stay by your side fighting for you, even if it means dying for you.”
The world says: “There is no way the churches in this town will ever work together. Racism will never end. Bigotry will never cease. The railroad tracks will always divide. There is no room for compromise. There is no place for reconciliation. There is no hope for unity.”
Then a brown-skinned baby’s birth to a Hebrew woman is announced by angels: “I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: white and black, red and brown, Aramaic-speaking and foreign-speaking, gay and straight, rich and poor, documented and undocumented, citizen and refugee. For you, all of you, a baby is born who is Christ the Lord and through him there is no longer Jew or gentile, slave or free, male or female for all are one.”
The good news of Christmas is although the world often seems dark, the light of God will not be diminished.
The good news of Christmas is although racism and bigotry will try to divide us, the good news that unites us will not whitewashed.
Although the sounds of guns and violence are deafening, the Word of God will not be silenced.
Although the rich will always try to rob the poor, the justice of God will not be defeated.
Although the powerful rule with fear, the prince of peace will not be conquered.
Although hate seems to have its way, love will not lose.
Although sin seems to get the best of us, grace will not fail.
Although despair seems to overwhelm, hope will not fade.
Although death seems to be final, the kingdom of God will reign forever and ever.
Hallelujah. Hallelujah. Merry Christmas.