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Preached at St. Mary's Parish, Crescent, NY, USA
Recently, I had a conversation with a young woman who has a Muslim father and a Baptist mother. I asked, somewhat reservedly, if she celebrated Christmas at all. She said not really. But I will get together with my friends and we will probably go out for something to eat.
We read in many studies that different people of various generations no longer practice a religion and do not keep the traditions. They feel left out or disenfranchised. Some say religion does not speak to them about what matters most to them.
Early reports from the Synod in the Roman Catholic Church tell us that young people want to be recognized; they want their opinions heard; they want truthful answers to their questions; they want to have a role in making decisions that govern the church.
The young woman I met believes in God (perhaps she calls God Allah). She told me she prays and volunteers to help others when she can. She is a spiritual person, who has little need for institutional religions that do not welcome her or acknowledge her as a fully human person. In many ways, like Joseph and Mary, there is no room for her in the inn. Many women feel the same way.
There are plenty of people — children, women and men — who feel left out, left behind. They have no place to call home. Immigrants and refugees pressing in at our borders; Ukrainians fleeing their country in fear of the Russian war; Americans in our own cities who cannot afford decent housing. They live in shelters and cardboard boxes on the streets. So many people are not respected for who they are as fully human beings. There is no room for them in the inn.
Jesus’s teenage mother, we read, when she discovered she was pregnant, promised that her son would deliver captives to freedom. Powerful, greedy autocrats would be defeated. Vulnerable people would gain respect and power. Perhaps she had in mind the downfall of the authoritarian rulers of the Roman Empire who saw themselves as saviors and kings. But they only cared about their own concerns.
Before Mary, the prophet Isaiah imagined, “there would be a prince of peace.” The psalmist envisioned “someone who will reveal justice to the ends of the world.” They were hoping for a different kind of messiah who would show the world a new way for people to live in harmony. It would be a victory won by peace and love rather than military might.
Years later, the evangelist Luke, in his infancy narrative (featuring curious shepherds and jubilant angels) noted incredibly there was no room in the inn even for this Wonder Counselor, God-hero.
It is so good for us to gather here, to commemorate the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. He grew up practicing loving kindness toward everyone. His powerful but peaceful message was ridiculed by some and spurned by others. He suffered an unjustifiable death for protesting against injustices.
Like his mother Mary, Jesus did what he was called by God to do. We continue to believe that his Spirit and vision for living resides in each of us. This year’s festivals of Chanukah, Christmas and Kwanzaa remind us that we are the bright lights in a world that can be cold, dark, and bleak.
The holidays bring cheer to many of us but not all of us. We cannot cover up the reality that we live in a world torn by unbridled corruption, cruel wars, rampant hunger, homelessness, and hostility.
What do we do now? In the scripture attributed to Paul we heard about the qualities of the ideal church leaders of his time. It says that they are to be eager and ready to do every good work. For us that means opening doors for strangers, and making room for everyone in the inn.