Looking for Jesus in All the Right Places

Nostalgic ChristmasWe feel the warmth of this night as we gather with family and friend in a sacred space, or around a beautiful tree, or at a scrumptious meal, or to exchange tokens of love we’ve carefully selected to share.  We might breakout into song, and laughter will surely fill the room whether we’ve gathered with two or three or twenty or thirty kin of some kind.

In those settings, some have the tradition of reading the Christmas story, to be reminded again for the reason of the season.  Grandma, or a grand kid, a good friend reads the story and it feels so right.  Then the thought occurs: this is a story of a poor peasant family forced by the Roman government to register in Bethlehem, so an occupying nation could collect more taxes.  We might spill our cocoa upon realizing what no room in the inn” really means.  It’s unimaginable to our 21st century sensibilities that Jesus’ parents had inadequate shelter for the delivery of their first child.  Jesus came secreted in the womb of a poor refugee woman; born into poverty. Holy Family

Let us bring to the forefront of our minds on this holy night the bare bones of the Christmas story, which we hang the accoutrements of our celebration.  We do not want to run the risk of robbing the story of its power by wrongly depicting it, so to affirm our comfort seeking ways, though our comforts are many.  Let us point out the places where we might want to look for the Baby Jesus; knowing if we would look there, our lives could be changed.

Jesus would grow up to judge those who oppressed the poor, cheated the virtuous, and made a mockery of morality.  He would have run-ins with the powers-to-be, and was more at home among the people of the land rather than the rulers of the land who took offense because he associated with publicans and the sinners, rather than governors and high priest.  God came among the poor and oppressed to announce anyone living on the margins of life, economic or spiritual, that they can be rescued if they will receive him just as he came into the world.

The good news of the story is: this baby would give radical hope to the poor who thought there was no reason to go on.  The child of Christmas would restore health to those shunned by sickness, so they might hold their head up again.  This Babe of Bethlehem establishes a new morality of reckless grace that goes way beyond giving people only what they deserve.  We must be careful to look for Christ of Christmas in all the right places.

Hugging JesusThe modest manner which Jesus came among humankind confronts the way we organize our lives.  So, we tend to rework the story, so we don’t have to look for him in unfamiliar and unexpected places.  It’s easier to stay in our routine places where we usually find baby Jesus.  Common practice allows us to resist changes that may disturb the peace as we know it.

This story invites us to place the unexamined parts of our lives under the gaze of a child in a simple manger.  We’re invited to kneel before a humble scene that asks us to discard the things in our lives that prevent our hearts from fully welcoming this child.  On the night that celebrates his birth, we stand with lowly shepherds and exalted kings; willing to offer ourselves in service to the others as the Christ child offered his life for you and me.

The first place the Christ Child came was to seek shelter in the womb of teenage girl without means; knocking on the door of Mary’s heart.  When God surprisingly showed up, Mary had to continually answer with faith, even while seeking shelter for the birth of her child; knowing life would not be the same.  Baby Jesus continues to show up in unexpected places, and we’re asked to welcome him, as Mary saying, “I am the Lord’s servant.” Servant

Where you are looking for Baby Jesus in your life this year?  Are you hoping Jesus will drop by for a little eggnog and caroling?  Are you thinking he might give the kids a little wink and a nod while they are unwrapping presents?  Might Jesus show up at church, speaking words that would not dare offend our traditions and customs?  Where are some of the other possible inconvenient places he might show that don’t fit our timing or preferences, which may call on us to welcome him with the same kind of Mary-like radical hospitality that says, “Yes Lord yes”.

A few years ago, city of Dallas ticketed the 1000 homeless folk who perpetually lived on the streets.  Most of the fines were not paid monetarily; they were paid by spending a few days in jail at the taxpayer’s expense.  Dallas Mayor, Mike Rawlings, former president of Pizza Hut and Homeless Czar recognized homelessness is a symptom to greater problems and pushed the agenda to build a new homeless assistance center, the Bridge, which provides centralized aid for the homeless in our big sister city.

Christmas and HomelessKen and Mary Anne Cooper sit in the FUMC, chancel this evening after serving First Presbyterian, Dallas for over three decades.  During the crackdown on homelessness, First Presbyterian opened its parking lot, rented port-a-potties, and hired security guards; so 200 homeless folk could find room in the inn.  The shelter was a temporary solution that kept others from being ticketed.  I’m confident in all of its messiness Ken and Maryanne could tell stories how God showed up in that unexpected temporary shelter.

I lift up the issue of shelter on Christmas Eve because this is a night we celebrate God showing up in a temporary shelter.  Irving may not need a Bridge, but we need additional resources that give a hand up, not a hand out, so those on our streets can get on their feet again.  I believe God will continue to show up in even greater ways at FUMC, Irving as we expand our faithful efforts which can take us beyond our diligent work with homeless students in Irving ISD and families from Family Promise to others in our sphere of influence who are still looking for a room in the inn.Help for the Homeless

Let me to suggest a Christmas Eve exercise.  When the story is read at any gathering imagine Mary and Joseph embracing baby Jesus in a temporary shelter.  Then allow yourself in your mind’s eye to hear the sounds and see the sights of a homeless shelter to remind yourself God shows up in the most unexpected places.  God’s ways are always surprising.  There is no better surprise than for God to show up in the unexpected places of hearts.  This often happens as we step down from usual comforts to look for Jesus in all the right places, among the people he touched, spoke, and healed; offering ourselves, like baby, Jesus to homeless, hopeless, and helpless.

Anglican churches often have red front doors.  In earlier days, a soldier couldn’t pursue an enemy who entered through the red doors of a church.  The red signified Christ’s blood, allowing anyone passing through those doors to be safe.  Over time, people began to see the red doors of a church symbolizing both physical and spiritual refuge.  The red doors said holy ground exists behind these doors because this is a place God shows up.

Red Door on ChurchYou don’t have to find a red door on a church to find a place where God can show up.  You do look in places where there are people in need of physical and spiritual shelter.  In those places, both the provider of shelter and those being sheltered are changed because those are the places where Jesus likes to show up.  In those places, both the recipient and the giver find more than enough grace, because all are more likely to open their hearts to receive Jesus just as he came.  Look for Jesus in the places where you can be an inviting red door to those in need of the shelter of our God.  In those places, a babe wrapped in bands of cloth, which changed the world; can show up again and change your life.  Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas and Change the World

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Published in: on December 24, 2012 at 6:30 pm  Leave a Comment  

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