God With Us? God IN us!

Luke 2 (CEB)

2 In those days Caesar Augustus declared that everyone throughout the empire should be enrolled in the tax lists. 2 This first enrollment occurred when Quirinius governed Syria. 3 Everyone went to their own cities to be enrolled. 4 Since Joseph belonged to David’s house and family line, he went up from the city of Nazareth in Galilee to David’s city, called Bethlehem, in Judea. 5 He went to be enrolled together with Mary, who was promised to him in marriage and who was pregnant.6 While they were there, the time came for Mary to have her baby.7 She gave birth to her firstborn child, a son, wrapped him snugly, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the guestroom.

Announcement to shepherds

8 Nearby shepherds were living in the fields, guarding their sheep at night. 9 The Lord’s angel stood before them, the Lord’s glory shone around them, and they were terrified.

10 The angel said, “Don’t be afraid! Look! I bring good news to you—wonderful, joyous news for all people. 11 Your savior is born today in David’s city. He is Christ the Lord. 12 This is a sign for you: you will find a newborn baby wrapped snugly and lying in a manger.” 13 Suddenly a great assembly of the heavenly forces was with the angel praising God. They said, 14 “Glory to God in heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors.”

15 When the angels returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go right now to Bethlehem and see what’s happened. Let’s confirm what the Lord has revealed to us.” 16 They went quickly and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger. 17 When they saw this, they reported what they had been told about this child.18 Everyone who heard it was amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19 Mary committed these things to memory and considered them carefully. 20 The shepherds returned home, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. Everything happened just as they had been told.

Doug Ruffle, who once served as a missionary in Argentina, shares the heartwarming story of a Christmas pageant that went off script, yet captured the true meaning of Christmas. It invites us to make room for the Christ Child in our lives.

The story below is lifted straight from “Leading Ideas,” a newsletter done by the Lewis Center for Church Leadership at Wesley Theological Seminary:

As a missionary in Argentina, I served Peace Community Church in Rosaria. It was an intimate community of faith. Their worship center, converted from a neighborhood house, had been built to accommodate up to 60 people. Relationships among members felt like family. The church carried from its earliest days a keen sense of mission.

One Christmas week, on a Saturday evening, Peace Community had gained permission from the local police to close off the street so they could put on a Christmas pageant for the neighborhood. They took chairs from the worship center and placed them in the street, facing the church building. The youth and children of the church — dressed as shepherds or wise men or the innkeeper and, of course, as Mary and Joseph — reenacted the events of Jesus’ birth. The babe was a doll dressed in swaddling clothes. Late December is summer in the southern hemisphere, and the temperatures were warm. It was a very pleasant evening.

It was the most wonderful Christmas pageant ever. Facundo showed us a way to love.

Church members placed a loud speaker on the roof, so people could hear recorded music and the dialogue of the children. Filling the seats were neighbors from a three-block radius: Roman Catholics, Protestants, Pentecostals, and those who professed no religion at all. They procured a real donkey to transport “Mary” past the front of the church. The church’s front door served as the inn.

The role of the innkeeper went to Facundo, a 12-year-old boy who had already grown to six feet tall. Facundo was the church caretaker’s son and lived in the rear of the property. While large for his age, he was gentle of spirit. All the children loved him.

With the music playing softly from the roof, Joseph led the donkey that carried Mary and stopped in front of the “inn” and knocked. Facundo opened the door and stood in the doorway. When he saw the donkey, and Mary sitting on it, his eyes grew wide. He had been given two lines, the first of which was: “There is no room in the inn.” Later he was to say, “We have a stable you can use.”

“Joseph” asked for a room, which was the cue for Facundo’s first line. Facundo kept looking at Mary on the donkey and said nothing. One could hear soft, nervous laughter coming from the audience. A prompter from behind the church door softly repeated Facundo’s line. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, Facundo said his line aloud. Joseph insisted. “But we have come from a long journey, and my wife is due to have a baby.”

Facundo looked at the donkey that carried Mary and looked at Mary. The prompter whispered his line once again from the other side of the door. “There is no room in the inn,” repeated Facundo, this time with hesitancy. He stood in the doorway watching. Joseph insisted again. “We are so tired; do you know anywhere we can stay?”

This was the cue for Facundo’s second line. He looked at the donkey and Mary and Joseph. The prompter softly said his line from the other side of the door. Again, a nervous murmur came over the audience. The prompter repeated the line. “We have a stable you can use.”

Facundo stood still, looking at the couple. Then he blurted out, “You can have my room!” pointing to the rear of the church property. There was silence. Joseph just looked at Facundo and said nothing. It wasn’t supposed to have played out this way. If Facundo had said his lines correctly, Mary and Joseph and the babe would have gone to the end of the sidewalk in front of the church, where there was a “stable” prepared for them.

Finally, Mary broke the ice. “Okay,” she said. “That’s really nice of you.” She dismounted from the donkey. The caretaker led the donkey away, and Joseph and Mary went through the door of the “inn” to stay in Facundo’s room.

The audience burst into applause. The children took their bows. The pageant couldn’t have been scripted any better. Facundo stole the show and the hearts of the neighborhood. He had captured the meaning of Christmas, because he made room for the Christ Child in his life. It was the most wonderful Christmas pageant ever. Facundo showed us a way to love.

What are the messengers (angels, family, little poor boys from Argentina) saying to us this Advent season?

Do we have “a room” that Jesus could use?

A simple boy asks a simple question. One that we almost “look down upon” because it is so simple. The proper response doesn’t take analysis, or research, on Christian doctrine. In fact, those that analyze too much might miss to profound simplicity behind Facundo’s action.

Jim Harnish, in his blog post on Dec. 9, 2016, quotes Anglican Bishop, Geoffrey Rowell, who described the Christian faith as “a revelation and a mystery–a revelation to be received and a mystery to be lived out.”  He went on to say that “notes of awe, wonder, reverence and reserve” are “essential characteristics of Christian believing.”

There is a time and place for analysis, debate, and research around the doctrine of the incarnation, but Christmas Day is neither the time nor the place. On Christmas Day, “the only appropriate response is awe, wonder, reverence and humility as we celebrate the mystery of the Word becoming flesh among us.”

Christmas day brings us face to face with the fact that the great mystery of God’s love in Christ is alive among us in the complex, conflicted, confusing mess of our ordinary lives and our broken world. Like Facundo, when faced with complex questions of our world, the best response might be, “You can have my room!”

“God with Us” is not only a doctrine to be analyzed, but “a mystery to be lived out.” We “live out” that mystery when we throw aside all the doubts, all the judgments and simply love. “I don’t care what the script says! I don’t care what the world expects! Take my room, Jesus!”

“In the hustle and bustle, the joy and pain, the power and the politics, the hope and despair of our lives each day” – we live out the Incarnation when we become the presence of Christ in those situations.

Not just on Christmas Eve, not just during the “Christmas Season” (however long that lasts!) but on every other day of the year, too.

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