I am pleased to share with you my sermon for Christmas Eve, 2010. I am indebted to John Fitzgerald, the senior pastor of Boone UMC, who wrote a similar poem and shared it with the Boone congregation Christmas Eve, 2007.
The poem below is uniquely and originally mine, but the idea and inspiration came from John.
(knocking on outside door)
I’m coming! I’m coming! I hope they’re all right.
I wonder who it is, knocking so late in the night.
Come in, weary friend, come in from the cold!
Come in and sit down, and rest from the road.
Welcome dear traveler, to the Royal David Inn!
The finest, the nicest, in all Bethlehem!
The inn is better and grander than ever before,
Air-conditioning, HBO, new carpet on the floor.
You’ll find we’re convenient to all sites in town.
A quick walk will show pretty much all that’s around.
Yes, we have room, we have room for you.
One with a hot tub? Or camelside view?
I’m sorry, forgive me if I seem sorta crazy.
This time of year, you see, makes my mind hazy.
What is it that occupies my thoughts in this way?
Something that happened years ago on this day.
It happened right here, this very same night.
Would you like to hear more? I thought you just might.
Have a drink, take a seat, right next to the fire.
And I’ll tell you a tale that’s sure to inspire.
It happened right here, this same time of year . . .
Rome ordered a census, they wanted a count
Of all of its citizens, every valley and mount.
People could only be counted in their hometown,
Which meant they came here, from miles all around.
They came here in droves, they came on their camels,
They came on their donkeys, and all sorts of mammals.
And all of them needed a place they could stay.
Who was I to turn business away?
And business was good, I mean, it was good!
Business was wonderfully, exceedingly good!
We filled all the rooms with guests from afar.
We rented the closets; I slept in the bar.
We stacked them three high all the way down the hall,
And still they kept coming; I found room for them all.
The house was filled with all those good folk.
I had just logged the time they all wanted woke,
I was headed upstairs to get me some rest,
When I heard a knock on the door – a very late guest.
I opened the door and peered out in the street,
Where stood a poor couple looking to greet.
It was clear they had travelled awhile and were tired
They held one of my coupons I knew had expired.
“Sir, if you please, we need room for the night.
We’re cold and we’re tired and we missed our flight.
So we rented this donkey and rode all the way here,
From Nazareth – no small task this time of year.”
My eyes were adjusting to the dark just outside,
And I looked them over – top to bottom, side to side.
He was a bit older, a working class guy,
gray in his beard, compassion in his eye.
His wife was younger, barely more than a child,
Her manner was gentle, tender, and mild.
I was just preparing to turn them away;
We had no more room, there was nowhere to stay!
I have a heart, really I do!
There just wasn’t room to squeeze in a few.
But that’s when I realized, standing there in the cold,
The woman was pregnant, very much so, I’m told.
I couldn’t say no, not with her condition,
But still the dilemma – where would I put them?
And then an idea flashed bright in my mind;
There was yet one more place they could go to unwind:
My stable out back where my animals sleep,
I could put them up there, and rent it out cheap!
I pitched the idea and we settled a price,
Even gave them fresh hay to make the barn nice.
The sheep were awake, the cattle were lowing,
I wondered aloud if they’d get their sleep going.
They looked the place over and said they’d be fine.
I brought out some food on which they could dine,
Then bid them good night and went off to bed,
Falling asleep just as soon as I laid down my head.
I was wakened at three by my beautiful wife,
Who knows I need sleep lest there be strife.
I knew right away there was something the matter,
As I listened to her excitedly chatter.
“Come quickly! Come quickly! O, you must see!
A sight to behold – come downstairs with me!”
She pulled the breath in and pushed the words out,
I still didn’t know what she was talking about.
She paused, caught her breath, and sat down in a chair,
Regained her composure, and smoothed out her hair.
And began to tell me how events did unfold.
I thought, “I can’t take this; I’m getting too old.”
She said, “Remember the couple out back in the stable?
Two are now three; believe that, if you’re able.
The woman gave birth just an hour ago
To a beautiful boy, I’m telling you so.
“He’s healthy and happy, they’re all filled with joy
To welcome tonight this wonderful boy.
You must come and see and congratulate them
Imagine it – here – in little Bethlehem!”
She went back outside and I looked for my shoes,
Still groggy, still sleepy, absorbing the news.
Then I opened the door to the cold, wintry yard,
Where it seemed all creation had let down its guard.
I remember the starlight so well on that night,
How it bathed the whole place in heavenly light.
The stars shone so brightly on our little town,
Made us look like a beacon for miles around.
I needed no lantern to light up my way.
The stars were so bright, it could have been day.
“It’s something,” I thought, but I didn’t know what
And sensed the excitement, building down in my gut.
So still, so solemn, the world lay in wait,
Yet knowing this day would forever be great.
I stopped just outside that cold, smelly cave –
The stable, the barn – good shelter it gave.
Around my stone manger, the family stood still.
Adoring the child, what a warm, precious thrill.
I stepped just inside and they looked up at me,
They lit up with smiles just as wide as could be.
“Come over and see” they said with such joy.
“Come over and meet our new baby boy.”
I walked through the filth and over the hay
And right to the manger, where the new child lay.
“What name is he given?” I wondered aloud.
“His name is Jesus,” said his mother, so proud.
Then she proceeded to say unto me,
“This child is special, he’ll set the world free!
From darkness and heartache and war and from strife;
To beating these things, he’ll devote his whole life.
“From fighting and feuding and hardness of heart,
He’ll reconcile all things, give all a new start.
The divide between persons will cease to exist,
No more divisions from east and from west.
“His name is Jesus,” she said with a grin,
“For he shall save all from the depth of their sin.
He’s God’s Anointed, yes, He is the One.
His name is Jesus, and he is God’s son.”
I hoped she was kidding, so I looked in her eyes
And saw she believed it, it was no great surprise.
I turned to her husband to see what he thought.
He confirmed the whole story with one silent nod.
I paused for a moment and let it sink in.
The child will save us all from our sin?
I wrestled a moment with what I’d just heard,
Pondering carefully every last word.
They claimed the outrageous! They thought it was true!
The child they had birthed would save me and you!
I thought they were crazy, that’s how it all seemed.
My stable? In Bethlehem? Birthplace for a king?
The place was so lowly, so near to the earth.
Hardly the place for the Messiah’s birth.
I knew what the prophets had forseen back of old
How events of Messiah were supposed to unfold.
They predicted a king! A strong mighty leader!
Not a child born to peasants in my cattle feeder.
Why would these people claim something so grand
When they held so little in their peasant hand?
How could this child be the long-promised king?
Who would ever believe such a thing?
You probably should know that I’d never had use
For faith or religion, they just seem an excuse
For dear feeble minds to be filled to the brim
With fanciful tales they believe on a whim.
This couple was nice and they seemed quite devout.
They believed God was working this whole thing about.
But I was a skeptic, I didn’t believe
That God had some purpose he intended to weave.
At least, I was trying to cling to my doubt
But all my excuses were plain wearing out.
The family looked joyful and filled with such hope,
My doubt was hanging by a very thin rope.
The child was held in his mother’s embrace,
Who lovingly gave him a kiss on the face.
Her husband stood by filled with love and with care
I was honored and humbled to be standing there.
The mother looked up, and she asked me a question,
She said, “My good sir, would you like to hold him?”
Me? Hold the child? Now what was she thinking?
Talk about crazy! She must have been drinking!
I’m no good with kids! Why should I hold the child?
What if I drop him? Imagine the suit to be filed!
I’m no good with kids! I don’t know what to do!
“I’m honored, but I prefer that he be held by you.”
But then she assured me the child wouldn’t break.
Though some crying, perhaps, little Jesus would make.
Placing him in my arms, she said, “How does that feel?”
“It’s natural” I lied, trying not to make a big deal.
Yet before too long, that statement was true.
The baby relaxed and started to coo.
I relaxed, too, and I finally looked down
As the child in my arms woke from sleep without sound.
Now, listen quite close to what I must say.
Because it sounds quite absurd in every way.
You’re free to think I’m a crazy old guy,
That’s fine if you do, I won’t wonder why.
But friend, I must tell you just what I perceived.
In my stable out back, on this very same eve.
What I experienced is a tale to be told,
Again and again, from those long days of old.
I was holding the child, what I felt was quite odd:
Somehow I just knew, the child was God.
How did I know? I really don’t know!
Just something within me made me know so.
I can’t quite explain it. I’ve tried! Take my word!
What I experienced just seems absurd.
What happened could only be described as an art;
Something softened within me, down deep in my heart.
It’s a feeling I knew wasn’t there just for me.
It’s for the whole world, it’s even for thee.
The child is God-with-us, yes, Emmanuel,
The presence of God is here with us to dwell.
God has entered our world, let all hearts prepare room!
The light of his presence dispels all our gloom.
His birth is a thin place between heaven and earth.
God’s presence has crowned all creation with worth.
God reached through the thin place to you and to me.
Providing new life for all people to see.
The child is God-with-us, yes, Emmanuel.
So remember this story, remember it well.
Write it and tell it, share the good news!
Christ Jesus is born for Gentiles and Jews.
His birth didn’t happen just once in my stable,
He is born yet again in hearts that are able
To prepare room for God to make home in our heart,
With forgiveness and love, granting all a fresh start.
He didn’t come once and then vanish away.
He can soften our hearts here and now, on this day.
He is changing all hearts toward God’s kingdom way
He brought heaven to earth, his kingdom shall stay.
Well, there you have it. The tale you have heard,
Of what happened on this night – Believe every word.
You can take it or leave it, that’s still up to you.
This time each year, there’s still something to do.
Open your heart to receive Jesus in.
If you’ve done it before, then do it again.
Let love fill your being, and hope flood your soul,
Prepare room for the Savior to make your life whole.
May God’s love shine its light down deep within you.
May it touch your whole life and make you brand new.
May you say it long after I’ve gone out of sight,
Merry Christmas to all, and to all, a God-night.