Christmas 1 + December 28 & 31, 2017
Text: Luke 2:8-14
The Bible does not tell us much about Joseph. He was a descendant of King David. He was an honorable and obedient believer. When Mary told him she was pregnant, he planned a quiet divorce to spare Mary public shame. But then, "An angel of the Lord appeared to him… and said, 'Joseph… do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit…' When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife." (Matt. 1:18-25)
But besides taking Mary as his wife, Joseph also took Mary on a long trip. When Caesar ordered the census, Joseph had to go to Bethlehem. But that was a hard trip. Mary was almost nine months pregnant. That 100-mile trip likely took five or six days. Plus, the roads were packed with other travelers who had to go to their home town to register for the census.
Then, when Joseph and Mary got to Bethlehem, frustration was added to weariness. They could only find room in a stable. A modern equivalent might be arriving at your relatives and they tell you, “We have no room in the house. But you can stay in the backyard storage shed.” That’s how Jesus Christ, the Son of God, entered this world. There was no room for him in the inn. There was no grand welcoming committee to hail his arrival. Jesus entered this world unwelcome and obscure.
That’s also what the grown-up Jesus told his disciples to expect. Jesus said, "Anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me." (Matt. 10:38) In other words, when God blesses you with faith in Jesus Christ, you can expect the world to treat you the same way it treated Jesus. This world does not have room for faithful disciples of Jesus. This world does not welcome anyone who puts Christ first.
Sure, Christians live in this world. Christians have jobs, shop, go to movies, eat at restaurants, and pay taxes. But Christians really do not fit into the fabric of this world. There is no room in this dog-eat-dog world for those who imitate the humility and meekness of Jesus. There is no room in this world for anyone who puts Christ ahead of the almighty dollar. The world does not roll out the red carpet for anyone who puts authentic Christian morality ahead of the slippery scruples of “looking out for number one!” The world does not put out the welcome mat for Christians who take a stand on God’s Word. This world obsessed with fame, fortune, and frivolity does not welcome those who deny themselves and put their Savior first. So just as Christ arrived in this world unwelcome and with no place to stay, likewise, Christians have no welcome and no room in this sinful world.
But there is a place for the followers of Jesus Christ. That place is by Christ’s side. There is room for every believer in Christ’s temple, the holy Christian Church. There is room in the Church, not because there are so many empty pews that anyone can find a place. No, there is room for you in Christ’s holy Church because Christ’s heart is so full of love for lost sinners.
You also will receive a hearty welcome in Christ’s holy Church. That hearty welcome does not really come because a greeter smiled at you, an usher handed you a bulletin, or the pastor remembered your name. No, there is welcome for you in Christ’s holy Church because Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are wearied and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matt 11:28)
So, even though there is no real hospitality for Christians in this sinful world, there is a place where you belong. It’s at the manger of Christ. It’s at the cross of Christ. It’s at the baptismal font. It’s at the communion table. It’s in the pew receiving forgiveness of sins through the Word of God. Concerning Christ’s holy Church, you can say, There is room and welcome there for me. Our Gospel lesson shows us why we are welcome in the presence of Christ, our Savior, and our God.
There is room and welcome for us by the side of Jesus because of what the angels said to the shepherds. "Do not be afraid. For behold, I bring you good news of great joy, which will be for all people: Today in the town of David, a Savior was born for you. He is Christ the Lord." (Luke 2:10-11)
Jesus was born to be the Savior for the shepherds. But that "good news of great joy" was for all people. That includes you. Jesus came as your Savior. Jesus came to rescue you from your sins. Jesus came to cancel your guilt. Jesus came to make you pure and holy in the sight of your God.
That’s why the whole angel choir rang out on that first Christmas, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward mankind.” (v 14) Christ brings peace to the earth. It’s the peace between forgiven sinners and a God full of good will toward all mankind. God loves the whole world.
Other Bible passages tell us the same thing. Saint John tells us in his first letter, "Christ is the atoning sacrifice for our sins; not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world." (I John 2:2) Saint Paul tells us in his letter to Timothy that God "wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth." (I Tim 2:3-5) Jesus himself tells us, "God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life." (John 3:16) The angels, Saint John, Saint Paul, Jesus all tell us: there is room and welcome for you in the presence of God because of Jesus Christ.
But the fact that the angels announced the birth of Jesus first to lowly shepherds also shows us that there is room and welcome for you in that manger of Christ. Shepherds were outcasts. “Good and decent folk” did not associate with shepherds. Shepherds were uneducated, rude, filthy, smelly country bumpkins. But the people on the lowest rung of society’s ladder received the highest honor of being the first to worship Christ on earth. Jesus once said, "So the last will be first, and the first will be last." (Matt 20:16) Saint Peter says in the book of acts, "God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right." (Acts 10:35) Your rank in society doesn’t matter. There is room and welcome for you in Christ’s holy Church whether you are a beggar or a businessman. It doesn’t matter if you are a high school drop-out or a highly educated executive. You can be black or white, young or old, rich or poor. It doesn’t matter to Jesus.
And it also doesn’t matter what kind of sins you have committed. Murderers, prostitutes, corrupt government officials, and human traffickers, have all found a place at the manger of Jesus. That’s not an excuse to sin. Saint Paul says to the Corinthians, "Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God." (I Cor 6:9-10)
By God’s grace you also were washed in the blood of Christ. You were sanctified - that is, you were made holy, by the Holy Spirit’s gift of faith in Jesus. You were justified - that is, you were given as your very own possession the purity and holiness of your perfect Savior. So, even though you have committed countless sins, foul and disgusting sins—yes, for you a sinner, there is room and welcome there for you in Christ’ holy Church.
Likewise, even though this sinful world has no place for you and does not welcome you, Jesus welcomes you. Jesus has a place for you by his side, in his holy Church. Yes, there is room and welcome here for you.