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December 24, 2006 (Christmas Eve)—“A Place for Him”
Interim Pastor Steven Jensen
At the beginning of the first Gulf War, I was a chaplain at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego. In a few short months, many would make the transition from doing battle on the high school gridiron to doing battle in the desert sands of Iraq, and we chaplains were quite aware of how important our role was with these young men.
Some 22 different religious opportunities were provided for the recruits each week, but even more as Christmas approached. A significant number of them attended more than one Christmas week service, and several asked to talk with me after worship, as is common. My discussion with one young man has come to mind each Christmas since, because I believe his observation captures the message God intended.
He said, “Chaplain, my family was not religious and I don’t know anything about God or Christianity. But I’ve felt the need to come to the services since I’ve been in “boot camp” and find I get a lot out of them. This week, though, I wondered why I heard the story about the birth of Jesus more than once. Then I realized God was probably sending me a message.
“My parents are divorced and remarried and they have each started new families. Now when I go to visit them I have no room of my own, no place to lay my head. There is no room for me in their new lives.
“I can relate to this Jesus. There was no room for him, either, no place to lay his head. He knows what it’s like to be me. Please tell me more about him. I think we can have a relationship, one based on real love and acceptance of me just as I am.” I don’t remember his name, but I’ll never forget the eager look in his eyes.
When in your life have your received the message, spoken or unspoken, from others that there was no room for you? When did a family member tell you there was no room? When did people you thought were friends indicate there was no room? When did an employer, despite your qualifications, tell you there was no room for you? When did a family of God make it clear they had no room for you? In trying to be accepted, we often agree to be anything people want us to be or to do what others need—and make no room for us in our own lives. Jesus knows what that is like from his own life experience.
Listen again to the angels’ announcement and hear what the Marine recruit heard: “Behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; for to you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” To you is born a Savior.
“And this will be a sign for you: you will find a babe wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” This will be a sign for you. That’s where you will find him. Not within the royal splendor of Jerusalem but in the lowly squalor of a Bethlehem. Not in the palace of the king, but in a small Judean cattle cave. Not in the incense perfumed presence of the high priest, but in the company of smelly shepherds and in the dense aroma of a cow barn.
Is it any wonder that thousands of people in Africa, in India, in China and the beaches of Hawaii who have no place to lay their heads come to faith after hearing of this Son of God? Is it any wonder that those who have lost hope of ever being loved, much less noticed, will find in this child hope for the future and the Good News of a God who offers peace, hope, and joy?
Two thousand years after the birth of Christ, the message of love and forgiveness, of hope and grace, still is heard by those who need it. God has sent his Son to live among us, to live like one of us, to experience the challenges of life for humankind. This innocent babe is no threat to anyone, yet there will be those in his three decades who will be fearful of him and seek to end his life. He will know what it is like to lose his earthly father and people close to him. He will endure envy and betrayal, temptation and despair.
However, he will be raised by a family who has ultimate trust in their God. He will be brought to places of worship and be a teacher of the faith. He will live his life in faithful obedience to God and find little earthly reward. He will bring healing and forgiveness to the desperate and dying. His life will be a ransom for many, and he will die because of his great love for us.
We here have been fortunate to hear the Good News of the coming of Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God. We have heard the birth story often over our lifetimes and take comfort in its retelling year after year. I trust its hearing evokes different feelings and inspiration, however, than the reading of “The Night Before Christmas” or our favorite bedtime fable.
I hope that you get a sense of awe at the marvelous plan of God who gives us Jesus, not as a bellowing prophet or mighty conquering hero, but as an innocent babe. He knows us so well!
He knows that I am more likely to respond to a baby that invites my tenderness and appreciation for the miracle of life than someone or something of great power that demands my obeisance. He knows that I connect more to someone who demonstrates how to live a holy life than one who tells me how to live. He knows that I—and you—will find multiple connections in the life and ministry of Jesus, who demonstrates that love—God’s love—heals and makes life worth the living. And He knows that guilt and rebellion weigh us down and prevent us from living the lives He meant for us; and so, with the gift of His Son, He made possible forgiveness and new life with Him that will never end.
Give yourself a gift this year. Read the Gospel account of the birth of Christ again and open yourself to the message it contains for you. It is different for all of us, but somehow it connects to all of us. Jesus did not come just for others; he came because of you. He invites you to get to know him better and thus get to know God. Is there any room in your heart, your life, for him? Will he be a welcome guest? Celebrate this life, this great gift from a loving God. Be another Christmas miracle to yourself and those around you.
Share the story of Jesus’ birth with others who need to hear it. Be their angel who proclaims, “Behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”
As you make room for Jesus this Christmas, make room for your family, for your neighbors, for a stranger, for new brothers and sisters in Christ. As Christ is born again into your life this year, be reborn as a child of God. Welcome to the family—there will always be room for you among us.
Copyright © 2006 Steven Jensen
Comments welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org