Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Christms Secrets - The Cross under Bethlehem's Floor

Preached on the Fourth Sunday in Advent, December 21, 2014

Scripture reading: Luke 1:2-7

Our family home is barely a mile west of the levee on the Feather River, in the Sacramento Valley. It’s a nice, easy little walk.
One of Two Pictures Taken at the Feather River:
In a Drought Year, January 2014
Inside the levee the ground slopes down a bit through a park and down to the boat launch. That’s where a trail begins. It winds for not quite another mile through some woods and brush around a bend in the river. When I get to the end of the trail, I turn around and head for home.
About five miles north of there, there is a bridge that crosses the river. That’s where they measure the depth of the water during the winter flood season. The monitor stage is ninety five feet high. Flood stage is about one hundred and three feet. The danger stage is about one hundred and four feet high. That’s a lot of water.
I forget how high the water gets before the authorities start warning people to evacuate. I suspect it was about ninety five feet high and rising the two times that we evacuated.
Both times were voluntary. My parents have always been careful about not getting caught in a flood.
Feather River: January 2014
Both times were in December. Once, when I was thirteen, it was just before Christmas. I remember helping put our unopened presents on the high shelves of our closets.
The second time was only about fifteen years ago. I had flown down for a late “post-Christmas” Christmas with my folks. There was a lot of snow in the mountains and the tropical rain storms that they call “the pineapple express” came rolling in. The rain melted the snow pack very fast.
The river must have measured about ninety five feet and rising. So my mom and dad and I evacuated and went to some friends of my parents in a nearby town that was on a little bit higher ground.
Their house was packed with people. The river wasn’t going down, and so we spent the night, and there were still people everywhere.
My parents slept in their friends’ camper in front of the house. I slept on the living room floor. The room was wall to wall people. The chairs and the sofa were occupied. Somebody’s grandma was sleeping in the recliner next to the Christmas tree.
I slept with my head under the tree. Fortunately, it was after Christmas, so there was room for me there.
Luke tells us that the newborn Jesus slept in a manger because there was no room anywhere else. If you read the history of the birth of Jesus, or watch a documentary about it, you will hear different ways that people or scholars make sense of what Matthew and Luke wrote. Even people of faith and scholars who are faithful speculate about how it could have happened. Luke gives us very little information apart from the basics. Matthew gives us even less.
Pictures Taken at Desert Aire, WA: November 2014
The word translated as inn could simply mean a place where people rested and slept.
On one hand, an inn would be such a resting place. As early as the middle of the second century, Christians in the Holy Land wrote about Mary and Joseph staying in the stable cave under the inn at Bethlehem, and about Jesus being born there. (As reported by Justin Martyr)
On the other hand Christians descended from the original people of the area will say, “No, no, no; people back then believed in hospitality to those in need. Surely, Mary and Joseph would have found someone in Bethlehem who was willing to take them in. The only problem would have come from all the visitors in town for the Roman census.
All the rooms for resting, meaning all the rooms in houses with floors, would be full. The typical house of the day would be a house of one or (perhaps) two rooms. What you would find, upon entering such a house, would be a ground level space, with mangers, and that was where the family’s live stock was kept. It was a space without a real floor. The rest of the house had a raised floor, and that is where people did their indoor living, and resting, and sleeping.
If all of the resting places in all the houses of Bethlehem were committed and full, then hospitality would result in someone saying to Joseph, something like this, “Our home is full, but our home is yours, if you are willing to accept our poor hospitality, we have no room for you to rest except where we keep our animals.”
The animals would be tied up outside in a safe place or taken to a neighbor’s house. Mary and Joseph would sleep on the ground beneath the floor, and that is where Jesus would be born. Then Jesus would be wrapped up and laid to sleep in one of the mangers in that low place for the animals.
The report of the stable cave under the inn is so ancient that I simply trust it. One way or another, the truth is that Jesus was born lower than the floors of Bethlehem. This was the cross that he and his family carried: the fact that there was room for others, but not for them.
The truth is that, in the end, the world decided that there was no room at all for Jesus, except on the cross. The best government of the ancient world and the best faith of the ancient world had no room for Jesus.
The best that human nature has to offer, outside of God, is a life that is in love with itself. Even we, as God’s, people have a desire for independence rooted in our hearts. We still have an independence that longs to shut out God’s interference. It is the nature of our rebellion against God to have no room for God himself.
This is at the heart of what we call sin. In the Bible, sin is an archery word that means missing the mark. Sin means missing the mark of what we were created to be. It means missing the mark of what God, in Christ, is ready to make us so that we can come into our real room, in our real house, where we can live in his love. And so we turn tables on God. In the room we claim for ourselves, we give God no room.
There is the line from the Book of Revelations, in which Jesus says to us, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come into him and eat with him, and he with me.” (Revelation 3:20) Is there a room in your life (is there some part of your life, or your thoughts, or your memories, or your relationship with others) where Jesus has no room? Is there some place in your life where you do not want him to enter, and live, and change you?
Then Jesus asks an even greater thing of us. Jesus, who carried the cross of the world having no room for him, asks us to look for him in those people for whom the world has no room. In the gospels Jesus accused some of his own people of not having room for him because they didn’t make room in their lives for those who are without a room to rest in. “I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me….As you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me.” (Matthew 25:42-45)
Even when we think we make room for Jesus, we may be wrong. To make room for Jesus we must make room in our lives for the people who are looked down on, and ignored, and shut out in this world.
Jesus is so much more extreme than we like him to be, because he wants us to take care of prisoners. Prisoners are people who have broken laws. They have been destructive to themselves and to others. There is no one so low, no one so lost, no one so foolish, no one so different from us that we are not to see Jesus in them and to treat them as we would treat Jesus.
Jesus was born lower than the floors of Bethlehem so that we must know that there is no one so low as Jesus is. Then think of this, if we are not low with him, where are we?
What people do you see as being of the least value in the world? They are Christ to you. If there is no room in your heart for them, there is no room for Jesus. Jesus himself says it.
There may be a time when you are low. Sometime you will be sure that there is no room for you. People may be unfair to you. They may say false things about you and refuse to shake your hand. You may have done something so horrible that you cannot forgive yourself. You may lose something so precious to you that you can’t imagine life without it: your career, your spouse or your child, your home, your health, your joy and sanity, maybe even your faith.
So Jesus willingly became a person for whom there was no room. And when his last room grew as painful and as lonely as a cross, he cried, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Psalm 22:1; Matthew 27:46)
Riverside Community Church, Desert Aire:
December 2014 
Would we have blamed Mary and Joseph for feeling forsaken? They were having a hard, hard time of it. It was a strange road that God had put them on, as he does with us. There was precious little room for them and for their baby.
Yet God is there. God is that baby. God left the most spacious room in the world, the place of real rest, to take our room-less lives and our restless hearts into his room and rest.
Jesus gives us room now and rest now; though you may not realize it. When you share the same room with Jesus every day, and share his rest, then you become a new person. You give room to others. You share your room with them. You give others rest. You share your rest with them.

Sometimes that giving and sharing will be your cross; just as it was a real cross for Jesus. That is one of the secrets of Christmas. You give and share yourself as Jesus did. Then you will give to others something good, because Jesus has found room for himself in you.

1 comment:

  1. "Jesus has found room for himself in you.". What a perfect sermon to read on Christmas Day. Thank you.
    Merry Christmas.