Sermon – December 15, 2019 – 3rd Sunday of Advent & Children’s Program

***Notice — this was the text I started the sermon with – but things were added in the moments, much like cooking a soup based on a recipe, and then remembering you have some mushrooms that would be so great in it.  So, if when you read this text you swear you heard me say something not printed here – it’s completely possible. ***


Today is the Christmas program with the Sunday School kids

  • A tradition we all might remember participating in as kids, watching your kids do, and maybe now your grandkids.

There is a Mary and Joseph, a baby – real or more often realistic doll

There are shepherds, and angels, sheep, and probably a gigantic star.

Maybe there is an innkeeper who shakes their head no and kicks ‘em to the barn, surrounded

By horses, chickens, cats,

We try to make it kind of shabby chic décor with an old dusty creche, and lots of straw

  • It somehow adds to the magic of Christmas eve that we have Mary giving birth in a barn surrounded by a menagerie of animals on a dirt floor.


Maybe it’s just me but I think It is often portrayed as isolated and lonely for the holy family.

In my mind they were wandering alone

– just Joseph leading a donkey carrying Mary across the desert.

The story of rejection from the “inn keeper” has stayed with the story in such a meaningful way

  • as if we have affection for the character
  • Maybe his part in the story lets us off the hook for not being such a jerk.
  • Maybe it feels good to have someone seem horrible.
  • This sort of heartless character as if he doesn’t care how pregnant you are what son of a God you think this is you are giving birth to


Recently a really wonderful theologian and author from Canada, named Sarah Bessey, wrote an article based on her re-education about the nativity, And how we have gotten it all wrong. This article has been reposted many times on facebook, because it kind of pulls back the curtain, like in the wizard of Oz on the nativity. What her re-education was based on was the social & cultural norms of the time. So, some people today have a real passion for putting Jesus back in Christmas, right. And I think that Sarah Bessey would agree and go further to say, well then you all better put Jesus back in Bethlehem, and out of the Mall.

She talks about how – it’s not just me that had this impression that Mary, Joseph, and Donkey were travelling all by themselves, going door to door, all by themselves looking for a place to stay.


But in this culture and at this time there is no way they would have been traveling alone. They would have been part of a huge group of people traveling together, as a large extended family, from the same tribe, going to be registered.

-We have this notion of starting a family and living separate lives from our parents but that was absolutely not the culture and notion of family that would have been true for Mary and Joseph.       They would absolutely not been alone on this journey.

– And this notion of the horrible innkeeper is backwards. In these days and in many rural communities still today, the family slept in one room together, and most likely had an additional room where they could also have guests stay. AND attached to the house was the room where they kept their animals because those animals were prized possessions and could not be out of sight where they were stolen.

– The practice of hospitality was inherent to the time. You let travelers stay with you, because you also need safe lodging when you are traveling through.

So remember because it surely wasn’t just Mary and Joseph there was LOTS AND LOTS of people who needed safe lodging, and this home was already full of people, undoubtedly part of Joseph’s larger family.

So, maybe it wasn’t that this family with the home said there was no room, but maybe they insisted that they would Make Room, No Matter What.

What if this “innkeeper” as we want to call him said to Joseph, your wife cannot walk another minute, we will make a space here. You will stay with us. We will make room and keep you warm and safe here.


  • And then there is the matter of the actual birth. Maybe we don’t need to know all the gory details.
  • It was maybe an immaculate conception, but real human live birth is far from immaculate. It’s messy. And loud. And chaotic. And unpredictable. It can be horribly complicated.
  • And in these times it was dangerous for the women and the baby. Children often died, as did the mother.
  • Women gave birth surrounded by experienced midwives, and other care givers – women – who had surely grown up around women giving birth surrounded by women.
  • So there is almost no chance that it was Mary and Joseph and the donkey alone in the barn to figure it out.
  • AND THANK THE LORD, am I right?


So, why do we always tell this story the same way

  • of Mary & Joseph making this harrowing journey alone
  • The heartless innkeeper
  • This lonely, quiet, peaceful birth of Jesus to Mary & Joseph, alone in a barn with only a cow for a witness.


Why do we tell the tiniest fraction of this amazing story?

What do we get out of having it so completely lacking in the enormous multi-generational family that Jesus was actually born into? What are we missing when we leave out the authentic community that was inherent to the lives of women and men, and children with more cousins than they can ever count? What magic are we missing out on when we make the real-live birth of God in flesh among us so clean and tidy?


I’m not saying that the story we tell is not true. I’m just suggesting that we open ourselves up to the possibility that we don’t even know the half of how amazing the birth of Jesus was. And that it is a story of profound human family, radical hospitality, and fierce love. God made known in real flesh and bones.