Christmas 25 December 2018
St. Peter & St. William Churches in Naples, Fl
Isaiah 9, 1-6 + Psalm 96 +Titus 2, 11-14 + Luke 2, 1-14
At the heart of this story there hangs a “no vacancy” sign that even today can trouble a sensitive conscience, and leave us wondering about what to do. Not too long ago a school Christmas pageant was being presented by a group of enthusiastic children all ready to play the parts. Among them was a boy named Billy who has “Downs”. The teacher, Billy’s parents, and members of his class at school worked hard to help Billy remember his lines: “There is no room in the Inn.” For weeks, they rehearsed the lines with Billy, “There’s no room in the Inn. There’s no room in the end.” Over and over they practiced with Billy. Then came the night of the show. Everything was just as planned and as rehearsed. Mary and Joseph walked up to a sagging door, knocked, and Billy opened the door and spoke his rehearsed lines: “There is no room in the Inn.” Everyone was relieved. Mary and Joseph looked sadly at each other and began to walk off at which point Billy shouted: “There is no room in the Inn, but you guys can stay at my house.” It is almost a casual remark, but yet it is a cry that leaves us wondering why we can’t see things the way an innocent child sees, and why we can’t think the way an innocent child can think. Billy was listening to that story he was part of, and he added his own tidings of great joy.
In his Gospel, Saint John takes up this chance comment about the lack of room when in his Gospel he talks about the Word became flesh. “He came to his own and his own received him not.” My friends, we have gathered here because Jesus Christ is still coming, and after all this time, too often there is still no room. This world is filled with time saving tools and devices, but we seem to have less and less time, and there is too little room for God. In a real and practical way, our attitude toward the homeless and refugees takes on a deeper dimension here when we think there is no room. Yet this season reminds us that God keeps knocking, and those who saw that Christmas pageant with Billy may make room and invite God into their hearts and home.
On the night and in the ancient Gospel story we have just proclaimed, there are two kinds of people who heard the cry that night. Shepherds who know they know nothing, and wise men who know that they do not know everything. They are the very simple and the very learned. In both cases with these two kinds of people, something happened because they listened and headed what they heard. They listened. In fact, every part of this Gospel is about listening; and every person whose story is woven into this Gospel are people who know how to listen. Old Zachariah, young Mary in Nazareth, and a man who never says a word in our scriptures named, Joseph listened. That’s all he did: listen and act. They all listened, and because of their willingness to listen, God was able to accomplish something great. When they came, these shepherds and these wise men whose story will soon be retold saw tiny hands that would one day hold a heavy cross and tiny feet that would walk on water. They saw eyes that could see the secrets of every human heart. They saw ears that could hear people in a distance crying out over the noise of a large crowd, “Son of David, Have Mercy on me.”
Some historians believe that western monasticism saved civilization in the dark ages, and I believe that the ancient wisdom of their Rule may once again save civilization as we know it. A man named Benedict wrote that Rule by which western monasticism has been guided to this day. For hundreds of generations those monastic men and women were inspired by the wisdom and common sense of that Rule to be generously hospitable to anyone searching for a place to stay, while the very first line of that Rule says: Listen, and the silence of those holy places is just what it takes to hear the cries of people in this world.
Once in an interview, Stephen Spielberg was asked, “What would you hope God will say to you when you finally meet him. Spielberg responded, “I hope God would say to me: ‘Thank you for listening.’” What a great answer! It is true about the Christmas story. All have heard it, and some have listened. At the Annunciation Mary is listening. In today’s Gospel, those shepherds are listening. Two-thousands years later we confront this stunning message of comfort and joy, and look around and wonder if anyone is listening. God is with us. God wants a place in our lives, but not just in some back room or just when some crises arises, but in the very center of our lives and our homes. The great light that people in darkness must see is the light of our lives and our faith in the hands of people like us who have been baptized and handed a lighted candle to be kept burning brightly.
Those shepherds whose story we have just proclaimed did not only listen, they shared with others what they had heard and what they had seen becoming messengers of Joy. Their glad tidings touches human hearts and changes human lives, and it bears repeating more than once a year. In those shepherds, we find our own identity and purpose: messengers of joy. Today we can say to them, thanks for listening and for sharing, and we can say to the Lord and to every holy family, “You can stay at my house.”