"Christmas Message 2014"
Scripture - Luke 2:1-20
Sermon Preached by Gregory Knox Jones
Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Joseph was constructing a table when a neighbor dropped by with the news. He said, "Joseph, have you heard? Emperor Augustus has called for a census and to register you must go to the town where you were born."

Joseph dropped his saw, slammed his fist down on the table and shouted, "No! Mary is due to deliver any day! She cannot make the trek all the way down to Bethlehem in her condition. What is it with Caesar? He's always pushing us and pushing us, for no reason other than to show us who rules our country."

The neighbor said, "I know, Joseph, I feel the same way. But there's nothing we can do about it. Nothing. I will pray for you and I will pray for Mary."

Joseph and Mary pack up supplies they might need. He is livid as they begin their journey south. Joseph hopes they can make the journey in seven days, but figures it will probably take them ten, and that is if they encounter no serious difficulties.

Mary rides their donkey for a while, but she is so uncomfortable that every few minutes she slides off the animal's back and walks. She feels better walking, but tires quickly, especially with all the hills they must traverse. She is constantly on and off the donkey. It is an exhausting trip and although Joseph and Mary never voice it to each other, they are both thinking the same thing. What if the baby comes when they are in the middle of nowhere?

Each day they draw a few steps closer to their destination, but each day is more fatiguing than the last. Joseph can see that Mary is suffering, but she never complains. He has always thought of her as tender; he had no idea she was also tenacious. His love for her, his pride in her, his respect for her soars to new heights. He is more convinced than ever that he made the right decision to stand by her.

Each day when the sun sinks behind the Judean hills, Joseph prays that they will find some good soul who will feel compassion for them and take them in for the night. Each day they are blessed with a hearty meal and a place to sleep.

The harsh journey takes more than a week, but somehow, by the grace of God, they make it to Bethlehem. They are relieved to spot an inn, but disappointed when the innkeeper says it is full. The innkeeper quickly pivots and walks away from the disheartened pair. In desperation, Joseph calls out to him, "We cannot take another step. Can we bed down with the animals?"

Without looking back at them, he replies, "Suit yourself."

The innkeeper does not give it a second thought and never goes out to check on them. Scurrying around his inn and checking off his chores, he misses the birth that will change the world. Did he even notice that the young woman was pregnant?

The innkeeper was not a malevolent man, not a brute who bullied people. He was an ordinary man who had become so focused on running a business that he had forgotten what is important. He had become so concerned about his list of things to do, that he never let anything penetrate his soul, never allowed the meaning of the moment to touch his heart. His life was an endless stream of demands that kept him in perpetual motion.

You are not like the innkeeper, are you? Someone who is only half awake to what is happening. Someone who never allows the richness of the moment to slip into your soul.

Mary and Joseph are "Like poor and defenseless people everywhere, at the whim of whatever Caesar or mindless bureaucracy or uncaring machinery of state that happens to lash out in their direction. Caesar issues a decree, drinks another glass of wine, and they must pack provisions and head out on a treacherous journey."1

What drives Mary and Joseph forward? What keeps them going despite Caesar's commitment to making them miserable?

The cynics among us assume it is fear. Mary and Joseph quake at the crack of Caesar's whip. I disagree. I think it is something more powerful than fear. I think it is hope. They trust God to nudge the world to a new place, a better place - where "the wolf shall live with the lamb" (Isaiah 11:6) and where nations "shall beat swords into plowshares." (Isaiah 2:4)

What gave the shepherds ears to hear angels singing? What motivated them to drop what they were doing and to run to the stable in Bethlehem, if not trust in God and hope?

There was a time not too long ago when many put their hopes entirely in reason and science, education and technology. These were the things that would cure the ills of our ailing planet. But with endless wars, cyber-attacks, terrorist strikes, glaciers melting, deadly viruses, ongoing racism, and that's just the beginning, it is hard to imagine that anyone does not recognize the need for hope in something much greater than ourselves.

That is why we are here tonight, why we have come out in the rain, why we gather in this peaceful sanctuary. We long to hear angels' voices, to see a guiding star and to peer once into the manger. We want to be reminded of our deepest and truest hope - that God is with us.

Pastor John Buchanan remembers the day when he attempted "to counter all the commercial hullabaloo about Santa. He sat down at the kitchen table with his young son in the middle of December and undertook the project of assembling a cardboard cutout crèche: stable, manger, baby Jesus, Mary and Joseph, sheep, cows, shepherds, and the wise men. He did his best to follow the instructions: €˜fold on dotted line, place tab A in slot B.' It was a disaster; nothing worked the way it was supposed to work. The kitchen table was littered with torn, bent, useless figures. Surveying the disastrous scene on the kitchen table, his four-year-old son, who was supposed to be learning the real meaning of Christmas - that Jesus is God's Son - said, "So Daddy, where is God in this mess?"2

Isn't that the question we ask when the parts are broken and our lives are in upheaval? When the chemotherapy treatments have taken their toll but do not seem to help; when a loved one has died and left a hole in our heart; when we have wrecked our marriage or abused a friendship; when our child is out of control and bent on destruction; when our work is no longer fulfilling; when we fear the future. It is time to return to Bethlehem and to remember the birth of our Savior. God is right in the middle of this mess. Joy to the world, the Lord has come.


  1. Thomas G. Long, The Christian Century, December 10, 2014, p.21.
  2. John M. Buchanan, "Where Is God in this Mess?" December 21, 2008.