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Dec. 22 -- Good Enough

“Good Enough”

Pardeeville, Dec. 22, 2019 (4th Sunday of Advent)
Rev. Linda Kuhn preaching

 

Scripture readings: Luke 2: 1-7; Luke 21: 1-4

 

In the gospel according to Luke we find the sketchy details of the story of Mary and Joseph travelling to Bethlehem, approaching an inn to find lodging for the night, only to find it full. The Bible says merely this: “And while they were in Bethlehem, the time came for Mary to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.”

 

It is a simple statement – “there was no place for them in the inn” – although through the years of tradition we have tended to embellish upon the story. Often the innkeeper is portrayed as the bad guy, a kind of villain, angrily turning away the couple at the doorstep.

 

But this morning, I’d like us to play with this passage and see where we end up. There's a technique in Jewish teaching and preaching called "midrash" -- it's using a story to tell another story in order to lead to understanding and insight. Let’s put a different twist to this part of the story to be a bit more sympathetic about the innkeeper, a person about which we know little, not even his name. And while we assume it is a man, we don’t know that for sure. Let's begin by re-creating the scene: the city of Bethlehem is bursting at its seams. According to Luke, the Roman emperor had declared that a census would be taken. Our own country is preparing for another census and we're well aware of how controversial this can be. Back then, no mailings were sent to homes to fill out at your leisure or census workers coming to your door, but rather the order was for a physical headcount. And not only that, but people had to travel to their ancestral home, their genealogical point of reference, and register there in person. We can only imagine the kind of undertaking a census would have been in those days before the advent of modern transportation or internet or calculators. No way to make advance arrangements; no air B & B's. We can only imagine how disruptive this kind of requirement was to people's daily lives, having to pick up and travel sometimes great distances over days and days by foot or pack animal.

 

The innkeeper had probably had been dealing with a steady stream of temperamental, short-fused, belligerent people now for days, even weeks. These people hadn't really wanted to make that trip in the first place through mountains or desert to come to Bethlehem. This census was a crazy idea of a foreign ruler who lived thousands of miles away in Rome who wanted a headcount of his subjects in his empire. Everyone, of course, suspected a tax increase was at the bottom of this.

 

If we imagine this scene, this innkeeper no doubt had been dealing for day after day with a great many people who were frustrated, angry, worn-out, dirty, hungry -- people in the kind of mood who were apt to find something, anything about the food or rooms or service to complain about.

 

Imagine with me that the afternoon was barely over when already the inn was already full -- full to capacity -- no more room. The innkeeper and his family had maybe already given up even own their living quarters to guests and resigned themselves to sleeping in the kitchen -- that is, if the guests didn't keep them up all night. He even had a line of people waiting outside until suppertime was over and the restaurant closed so that they could turn that space into a dormitory for the overflow crowds, just space to roll out sleeping mats. There was no more room, period.

 

Maybe the "no vacancy" sign had been hung outside for hours and yet people still came and asked to stay there. They harassed him, they even tried to bribe him with money, thinking he was trying to take advantage of the situation and was holding out on them for a inflated room rate.

 

Now it's dark and the weary innkeeper and equally weary innkeeper's family begin to think that maybe they can take a little break and grab a bit of supper - if there are any leftovers left -- when there's a knock. It’s a kind of a hesitant, apologetic knock, like the person on the other side of the door was kind of sorry to disturb him.

 

The bone-weary innkeeper drags himself over to the door, muttering about people who can't read signs or take "no" for an answer and opens the door -- and there finds on his doorstep a tired, dust-begrimed man and an equally tired-looking and dust-begrimed young woman who is very, very pregnant.

 

I can imagine the innkeeper closing his eyes for a moment . . . and saying under his breath "Why me, Lord? Why me? There's absolutely no room left in the inn. I can't turn this couple away, but where am I going to put them? Even if all the people in the dining room squeezed their sleeping mats closer together, this woman looks like she could go into labor at any moment -- and that would leave her in such a public place, full of strange people, and with all that noise. That’s no place for her to have her baby. What am I going to do?"

 

And then he thinks of it -- the barn. Yes, the barn, where all the travelling animals of their guests and some of their own livestock are stabled. It's no Marriott, not even a Motel 6, but at least it's off the streets and gives them some shelter and a bit of privacy.

 

I'd like to think that that innkeeper scrounged up a couple of blankets, maybe even from his own bed and handed them to Joseph as he led them back out to the barn. Maybe he chased out a couple chickens from the corner and cut open a fresh bale of hay and then wearily bid them good night. I'd like to imagine the innkeeper asked his daughter to bring them some freshly-drawn water from the well. And that maybe the innkeeper's wife went out in the middle of the night to check on Mary and help midwife when she went into labor and gave birth.

 

What if that innkeeper and his family really did offer the best that they had, given the circumstances -- and discovered that what they offered was good enough. What they did offer was acceptable to God, for God's purposes. In fact, what they offered as shelter for the night turned out to be the perfect place for the birth of the Messiah, the kind of Messiah who spent his whole life shattering people's assumptions about what God's power and authority and rule were all about. A royal palace or even comfortable quarters wouldn't have carried the message. The barn was good enough.

 

Let's shift gears now for a moment to think about the second reading of scripture this morning. Jesus once told of the story of a widow who offered her all, a mere penny, a pittance compared to the big bucks others were putting in the offering plate. And yet it was the poor widow who he lifted up as a model of giving because she gave what she had, what she could, given her circumstances, and gave it with great love and gratitude.

 

How often do we hesitate to offer a gift, thinking -- oh, it's not enough. It’s not good enough. We’re embarrassed we don’t have more to give. How often do we hesitate to offer not just the gift of what we have, but the gift of who we are, embarrassed to think that we personally, individually, don’t measure up somehow to God's standards, that we are not enough to be of any use to God -- not good enough or old enough or young enough or wise or rich or skilled enough. How often do we think we ought to wait until a more perfect time, when we’re in better shape, better equipped, better qualified. When God comes knocking on our hearts, how often do we think that who we are or what we have to give is so insignificant, so unacceptable, so inadequate, so lacking for God's purposes -- only to realize that it is good enough. In fact, it might be that we'll discover that this is exactly what God has been looking for. Over and over again in scripture, we find that when people bring to God what they have, who they are, they find themselves blessed and sent out.

 

I don't know about you, but I often feel overwhelmed these days. Not just with the trappings of Christmas preparations, but overwhelmed with the condition and needs of the world – the level of violence, of poverty, of injustice, of corruption, of insecurity. The physical, emotional, and spiritual pain in people's lives. The incivility and mean-spiritedness. We live in a world that is broken and bleeding and so very needful. What can we do? Any of our individual efforts seem so insignificant, so inadequate. And it is easy to give in to hopelessness or apathy, or construct barriers around our lives and feelings.

 

But God sent Christ into a world experiencing much of the same conditions in order to offer a glimpse then and now, through faith, of a different way, a new realm, a different rule. Our faith leads us to offer who we are and what we have-- as inadequate as it may seem-- for God's use, trusting that in God's hands, miracles can happen. So in these days, may God grant us the strength to not give up or give in to the darkness or the forces that would undermine God's yearning for us and for the world, but to instead follow the example the innkeeper, doing the best we can with what is at hand. Let us not short-change the power of God to transform us and what we offer into ways to further the realm of God in our world, perhaps in ways we least expect.

 

Perhaps what I'm trying to say is best summed up by two verses from the letter to the church in Ephesus: Now to the One who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish far more abundantly than all we can ask, or even imagine, to God be the glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus, to all generations, forever and ever. Amen. (Ephesians 3: 20-21)

 

*AFFIRMATION OF FAITH (from a Brief statement of Faith, PCUSA)

The same Spirit, who inspired the prophets and apostles,

rules our faith and life in Christ through Scripture,

engages us through the Word proclaimed,

claims us in the waters of baptism,

feeds us with the bread of life and the cup of salvation,

and calls women and men to all ministries of the Church.

In a broken and fearful world the Spirit gives us courage

to pray without ceasing,

to witness among all peoples to Christ as Lord and Savior,

to unmask idolatries in Church and culture,

to hear the voices of peoples long silenced,

and to work with others for justice, freedom, and peace.

In gratitude to God, empowered by the Spirit,

we strive to serve Christ in our daily tasks

and to live holy and joyful lives,

even as we watch for God's new heaven and new earth,

praying "Come, Lord Jesus!"

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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