December 4, 2016
The Second Sunday in Advent
It was Christmas Eve. A man was waiting for a bus to take him from Athens, Georgia, to Greenville, South Carolina. As he purchased his ticket, the agent said, “That bus is running a little late. If you’ll just watch the electronic letter-board over there in the corner, you will know when the bus arrives and when it’s time to board.”
The man wandered around the terminal for a while. Eventually he saw a small machine. The sign on the machine read, “For twenty-five cents, this machine will tell you your name, age, city of residence, and something about you.”
“That’s impossible,” the man muttered out loud, but nevertheless he was curious, so he pulled out a quarter and plunked it into the machine. The machine whirred and whistled a bit, then printed out a message that read, “Your name is Fred Jones. You are thirty-five years old. You live in Athens, Georgia, and you are waiting for a bus to Greenville, South Carolina.”
“Incredible,” said the man. “How does that machine know all of that? It’s amazing, but I’ll bet it can’t do it again.” So he plunked in another quarter. Again, the machine whirred and whistled for a bit, and then out came the message, “Your name is Fred Jones. You are thirty-five years old. You live in Athens, Georgia, and you are still waiting for a bus to Greenville, South Carolina.”
“This cannot be happening!” the man exclaimed. He put on some sunglasses, mussed his hair a bit, turned the collar up on his jacket, and tried another quarter. The response came back: “Your name is still Fred Jones. You are still thirty-five years old. You still live in Athens, Georgia, and for the third time, you are still waiting for a bus to Greenville, South Carolina.”
The man was amazed. He glanced across the street and saw a novelty shop. He walked out of the bus terminal, crossed the street, and went into the store. There he bought a pair of glasses with a large nose attached, a shaggy gray wig, a baggy shirt, and a cane. He then hobbled back across the street, acting like a much older man, and he walked up to the machine. He put a fourth quarter into the slot. The machine whirred and groaned and whistled, and then put out a message that read, “Your name is Fred Jones. You are thirty-five years old. You live in Athens, Georgia, and while you were horsing around, you missed your bus to Greenville, South Carolina!”
That little joke will serve as an Advent parable for us, and the message is this: Sometimes when we are waiting for Christmas, we horse around so much, we busy ourselves so much, that we miss the very thing we are waiting for. Sometimes we get so involved in the tasks and details of Christmas that we forget the One we are honoring.
Five little words in the Gospel of Luke say it all: “No room in the inn”.
There is a bit of pitifulness to those words. “No room for you here.” That was the beginning of the Lord’s life. That was the very first thing the world said to Jesus Christ. That experience would plaque Him the remainder of His days on this earth; even to this present moment. “No room!” “We’re just too crowded!” “Sorry, we are full up!” “Try again some other time!” “No room for you here, so if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a million and one things to do!” “It’s too bad, but there’s just no room.”
If we were honest with ourselves and others we would admit that this is exactly our problem. Yours and mine. We get so busy, so tired, so preoccupied with the incessant demands on our crowded and hectic lives that we shut out the very birth of the Lord we so long to know. Our lives, much like the Bethlehem inn, gets so crowded and so filled up that we don’t have room for Christ.
Christmas brings us good news, that unto us a Savior is given. Christmas also brings to each of us a haunting question: “Do you have room in your heart for Christ?” If you do not have Christmas in your heart, you are not likely to find it under the tree either.
One of the most famous paintings in the world of Jesus is Holman Hunt’s painting “The Light of the World.” In the painting, Jesus is not a baby. He is depicted as the resurrected Christ. He holds a lantern in his hand, which is a symbol of salvation. Jesus is knocking at the door. But, there is one small detail most people do not notice at first. There is no latch on the outside; the door can only be opened from within. In other words, only you can let the light of God’s love, incarnate in Jesus, into your heart. So, I have three questions for you.
First, question: Do you have room in your heart for faith in Jesus Christ? Let me start with a story of sorts to help illustrate a littlewhat I am asking.
A man and a woman were standing on the corner of fifth Avenue and 57th St. in New York City. It was Christmas time, and the Christmas rush was going in full force before their very eyes. They were waiting for the traffic light to change. The man obviously was irritated by the crowds, the hubbub, and the traffic. In frustration he growled, “This town is totally disorganized. Look at this traffic! What a mess! It’s terrible! Awful! Something ought to be done about it. It’s just ridiculous!”
The woman, on the other hand, had a different view altogether. She responded to his outburst by saying, “You know, when you really stop to think about it, it’s not ridiculous at all. It’s amazing! It’s astonishing! The romance of it extraordinary! There was a baby boy born in a peasant family in the little out-of-the-way village halfway around the world from here. The parents had no money, no clout, no prestige, no social standing yet 2000 years later, their little baby creates a traffic jam on Fifth Avenue, one of the most sophisticated streets in the world. That irritates you? It should fascinate you! It should amaze you!It should thrill you! It should inspire you!”
Each year, all of us in this church, will comment in one fashion or another about all the havoc caused by Christmas in our daily lives. The traffic is worse, if that at all seems possible. The lines in grocery and department stores, especially Wal-Mart, (and I often wonder if this is possible too) are longer and seem to go on endlessly. Wal-Mart is a madhouse during the normal part of the year; it is amplified during Christmas. The traffic on the roads isworse, and the drivers maddening. People are impatient and even to the point of being cruel it would seem.
However, I think we need to see all this “madness” in a different light, and then maybe some of our patience will rub off on someone else. Much of what goes on this time of the year is amazing and extraordinary if we but open our hearts to it. There was a baby boy born in a little out-of-the-way village halfway around the world from here; the parents had no money, no clout, no social standing. Yet some 2,000 years later, their little babyboy creates traffic jams on the most sophisticated streets in the world; long lines in store with computer terminals that we all thought years ago would do away with human interaction. And this irritates us? It should fascinate us! It should amaze us! It should thrill and inspire us!
I frankly have come to accept the chaos of Christmas, even if it does try my patience sometimes, because it reminds me of the incredible impact Christ has made on the world. Advent is a time when we prepare for the impact Christ should have on our lives. Christ is our Lord and Savior. This is a very public event as much as it is intensely personal one. Christianity is much more than just mouthing a creed; it is knowing a person – a God! We have to allow and invite Jesus into our lives. No one can do it for you. You have to do it yourself. You have to allow Him in. You have to allow yourself to know why all of the hectic madness is going on right now. So, do you have room in your heart for faith in Jesus Christ?
This is Advent, so frankly I don’t care if the sermon is a little long, so let me tell you another story. This is a story from James W. Moore who is an author of many books and is a minister for United Methodist Church. And he relates the story from many years ago:
“One of the saddest things I ever witnessed in my life occurred some years ago when I was a student pastor. A man in my church died because he refused to take penicillin. He had what started out as a minor infection. The doctor examined him and assured him that he could be healed quite quickly by this amazing miracle medicine, penicillin, but he was suspicious of what he called ‘these newfangled ideas,’ and he would not take the medicine. The doctors reason with him, the nurses pleaded with him, his family begged him to try it, but no luck. He would not give in.
I told Matt about my own experience with penicillin (once when I had appendicitis, and another time when I was spiked in leg in a baseball game and the wound became infected). I related to him how quick and painless and effective the penicillin had been for me. We prayed with him about it. We gave him convincing materials to read that documented the incredible healing powers of penicillin. But still he refused, and then it was too late. He would not take the penicillin, and he died. Tragically, sadly, unnecessarily, he died because he would not receive the medicine that would make him well.
Isn’t that sad? Isn’t that heartbreaking? I gladly would’ve taken the penicillin for him. So would his wife and his mother and his daughters and his doctors, but we couldn’t. We could not do it for him. He needed to do it personally.”
Faith is like that; no one can do it for you. People can tell you about Christ in his power to heal and save. They can give you convincing materials. They can beg you and plead with you, and pray and reason with you, and encourage you. But in the final analysis, it is so intensely personal - a personal decision to accept Christ into your life as your Lord and Savior – but you need to open that door with a knob on one side and receive him.
Second question: Do you have room in your heart for hope in Jesus Christ?
I have another true story, taken from an Advent devotional guide that illustrates my point for this question.
Some years ago, there was a plane crash in the mountains. The plane smashed into the side of the mountain, slid down a glacier, and came to rest just short of a dangerous drop-off. Most of the passengers died on impact. Others died later from their injuries. But sixteen people survived the crash and hung on for two months high up in the mountains, hoping and praying that soon someone would find them and rescue them.
It was a horrible, horrendous experience, and toward the end of the two-month period most all of them had given up and lost all hope. “If they were going to find us, they would have found us by now.”
But three men volunteered to go and see if they could find a way out. They started out walking the 15,000-foot elevation in rugged terrain, with ice and snow. One of the men got discouraged and turned back. The two others kept going. They walked for ten days until they came to a swollen river. They could not cross it. It was too dangerous. They wondered if this was the end and if there was any hope for them now.
They camped there for the night. The next morning, they saw a man standing on the other side of the river. They stood up, waved their arms, and yelled to him. The man just seemed to stare back at them. Then he turned and walked away. The next morning he was back again. Once again they yelled and waved their arms. This time the man took a piece of paper out of his pocket, tied it to a stone and threw it across the river. They rushed over to where it had landed, opened it up and read the words, “There is a man coming that I told to come”, in other words, help was on its way.
Then the man took a chunk of bread out of his pocket and threw it across the river. One of the survivors held the chunk of bread in his hand as if it were a sign, a sacrament that said, “Someone has heard our cries and cares; someone knows about us; someone will come and lead us out of here." One of the survivors turned to the other and said, “We are saved!”
That is the hope of Christmas. That is the hope of our Christian faith. Someone knows about us, someone has heard our cries and cares. That someone is Jesus Christ. Do you have room in your heart for hope in Jesus Christ?
Christian love is more than just loving those who look like us, dress like us and act like us. It is more than just loving those who love us back. It is loving all people because they are God’s children. It means loving every person we meet for God’s sake.
Let’s do a shorter illustration for this one.
One morning a man was sitting in the kitchen, reading the paper and enjoying a cup of coffee when his son walked in. His son was sniffling, and the man assumed that his son was coming down with a cold. But then he saw it wasn’t a cold; his son was crying and holding his hands cupped together out in front of him. Tears streaming down his face. His son opened his hands, and there was the lifeless form of his son’s hamster. It had died during the night, and the son’s heart was broken. Now the man didn’t much like hamsters. He didn’t care for them at all. They slept during the day and ran around on that squeaking wheel all night. But there in that moment, all the love the man had went out to that hamster. Why? Because his son loved him, so he loved him too, for his son’s sake.
Christian love is like that. It seeks people out and loves them because God loves them. It loves them for God’s sake. It loves them because they are precious to God. This is why Jesus came into the world in such a humble way. To show dramatically and graphically God’s love for all people, and to teach us how to love one another unconditionally, as God loves us.
So, for this week in Advent, I challenge you to practice hospitality, by making room for others. Don’t get so caught up in the details of Christmas planning that you forget to celebrate and cherish those people whom God has placed in your life. Remember what Jesus has given you and think about what you can give others.
Let us pray.
Father God, thank you for showing us how to open our hearts to Jesus. Help us make room for more faith, more hope, and more love as we continue our Advent journey. Show us how to act as servants as we offer our love and hospitality to others, that they may see in us the joy of knowing Jesus.
Lord, help us all reflect on how well we practice our hospitality in our daily lives. Help us to think about ways that we can make room for others, and for us to consider performing a daily act of hospitality especially toward someone less hospitable. Help us to not get caught up in the details of Christmas planning that we forget to celebrate and cherish those people whom You haveplaced in our lives. Help us to remember what Jesus has given us and think about what we can give to others. We ask all this, through Christ our Lord. Amen.
God Love You +++
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor - St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, Ca.