Open the Gift of Yourself – Pastor Robert’s sermon for Sunday, December 24

Throughout this Advent Season, we have been opening a new Christmas present each Sunday.  We’ve opened a lot of gifts already; the gift of expectation, the gift of acceptance, and last Sunday, we opened the gift of family.

     For today, let’s have a volunteer come forward and open the Christmas box.

     Let’s see what is in the beautiful Christmas box for today. It’s probably going to be one of the best gifts since tomorrow is Christmas!  What’s in the box?

(Opening of Christmas Box)

     It’s a mirror! This must mean that we are the gift. We belong at the manger scene!

Turn to someone near you and say, “You’re the gift.”

     Yes, you are the gift for this Sunday!  We have been pulling out a different nativity display each week to symbolize the Christmas gift, but for this week, I realized that you don’t often see the innkeeper in the crèche scene.

     In many ways, the innkeeper represents you and me in the Christmas story.   Sometimes in the busyness of the Christmas season and running around trying to think of everybody else, we forget that we’re part of the Christmas story too.

     We heard a little about the innkeeper during our Advent candle lighting earlier in the service.  Well the truth is, the scriptures don’t have a whole lot to tell us about this person.  All we know is that there was no room in the inn.

     Instead, Mary and Joseph had only one option on that first Christmas Eve.  They had to lodge where the animals were kept at night.  Mary and Joseph would have probably had to use their own robes and extra blankets just to keep warm.

     Sometimes I wonder if we brush aside the innkeeper in the Christmas story since we are told that there wasn’t any room for Mary and Joseph that night.  There is no indication in the story that the innkeeper had any idea about the holy child inside Mary’s womb.

     So what happened to the innkeeper in the Christmas story?  We don’t know.  But the more I think about whoever this person was, the more I think that this person represents you and me in the Christmas story.

     This innkeeper was right there.  I mean, he was right there with Mary and Joseph on that holy night.  Physically, he was as close as anyone to the holy family, but we’re not sure how close he was in a spiritual sense.

     One summer, I was driving through a trendy section of a community near Columbus.  It was around lunch time and I decided to find a parking spot and try out one of the restaurants on that block.

     As I was enjoying my lunch, I remembered that a good friend of mine was serving as pastor of a United Methodist church somewhere in that community.  And so, after lunch, I started walking to my car which was parked by a building next to the restaurant.

     I got in my car and as I started to pull out from my parking space, it suddenly dawned on me.  The building next to my car kind of looked like a church.  And sure enough, it was.  It was my friend’s church.  During my lunch, I was only about twenty feet away.  I was right next to it the whole time!  I was so close to missing it even though it was just one door away!

     How can we be so close to something and yet be so far away?  This story has a good ending because my friend happened to be in his office that day.  He gave me a tour of the church, we had a great conversation, and we ended our time by praying for each other. That visit became a holy moment for me.  I left feeling renewed and encouraged.

     Sometimes, we can be right next to something that is holy and can make a difference in our lives, but unless we open the gift, we can miss out on what God wants to give us.  I think this is true of Christmas.  We can be this close to Christmas and it can be happening all around us, but until we open ourselves in this season, we can miss it.

     The innkeeper was as close as you can get to Christmas.  The birth of Jesus happened right there in his own home.  I wonder if this innkeeper ever realized that this holy moment was meant for him as well.

     The innkeeper helps us to think about ourselves on this Fourth Sunday of Advent.  Sometimes, we remember everybody else at Christmas time except ourselves and our own need to receive the gift of Jesus’ birth.  The innkeeper may not be in the crèche scene, but he was part of the Christmas story.

     Do you see yourself in the Christmas story?  Or do you see Christmas as only something that is meant for everyone else and not for you in a personal way?

     There’s a United Methodist Church out in California that came up with a creative way to help everyone in the church and their community feel part of the Christmas story.  Let’s watch.

      We’re all part of the Christmas story, each and every one of us, including the innkeeper, especially the innkeeper.

     There was once a Christmas pageant at a small church in which the part of the innkeeper at Bethlehem was played by a high school student.  He was a quiet and polite boy, but the kind of boy who was a little awkward – in his manner, in his social relationships, and even physically since his growing frame made it difficult for him to find any clothes that fit.

     When Mary and Joseph appeared at the inn, he stood…awkwardly…in the doorway, slumping a bit toward the couple as they made their request for lodging.  He then dutifully recited his one and only line, “There is no room in the inn.”

     But as Mary and Joseph turned and walked wearily away toward the cattle stall where they would spend the night, the boy continued to watch them with eyes filled with deep compassion. Suddenly responding to a grace which, though not part of the script, he startled himself, the holy couple, and the audience by calling out, “Wait a minute.  Don’t go.  You can have my room!”

     By adding this extra line to the play, this boy reminds us that we all have an important part to play in the nativity scene.  God invites each one of us to participate in the Christmas story in a very real way.  Even the innkeeper can go off script and say, “Wait a minute.  Don’t go.  You can have my room.”

     In the Christmas story, nobody is left out.  Even the innkeeper can take more of a leading role.

     Let’s do this one more time.  Turn to a different person this time and say, “You’re the gift.”

     You’re the gift on this fourth Sunday of Advent.  Of all the gifts that you wrap and open this year, don’t forget to open up yourself and invite Jesus to live in the room of your heart.

     I’d like to offer three important thoughts on making sure that we don’t forget to take ourselves out of the Christmas box this Christmas.

Slow Down

     The first way is by slowing down.  Easier said than done, right?  “Today is Christmas Eve.  What do you mean, slow down?”  I know.  It almost seems impossible to slow down in our frantic culture.  Not too many people are slowing down during this busy time of year.  But it’s necessary if we want to receive the gift of Jesus Christ in our own hearts.  When was the last time you spent time praying in a chapel or in a place where it was just you and God?

     I came across this post on Facebook. A friend of mine who serves as a pastor posted these words one day:  “On Saturday mornings I work in the office and spend time in the sanctuary praying and, when it’s my turn to preach, practicing the sermon.  Some years ago a serious inquirer asked me, ‘Ed, what do you do with yourself all week long?’ Well, the answer isn’t what any of us do all week long, it’s more like ‘anything God wants to do with us!’”

     Slowing down and being still and experiencing the presence of God is the first way for us to personally receive the gift of Christmas this year.

Know What Is Important

     The second thing is to know what is and what is not important.  That’s not always easy to do.  Especially during the holidays, we can easily make the little things outweigh the more important things.  Don’t worry about trying to have a perfect Christmas this year.  Instead, focus on celebrating the perfect Savior.

A Personal Daily Devotional Time

     Slow down.  Know what is and what is not important. And last but not least, here’s a third way to help us not forget that we are a gift that is meant to be opened this Christmas.  Have a personal daily devotional time which includes prayer and a scripture focus.  Allow these daily routines of scripture and prayer to be how you center yourself during this holy season.  It’s a way for us to take a deep breath and soak in the meaning of this holy season.

     I wonder how the innkeeper reacted to the birth of Christ.  Did he welcome all the attention and the extra guests who came to see the newborn King?  Or was it more of an inconvenience to have those shepherds and onlookers stop by to see what was happening?  Did it have an impact on him personally or was this all something that he would soon forget. We don’t really know what happened to that innkeeper.

     Just remember, you and I have a part in the Christmas story as well.  This Christmas, may we each say, “Wait a minute.  Don’t go.  You can have my room.”


Open the Gift of Yourself

Discussion Questions

Micah 5:2-5a & Luke 1:26-38

December 24, 2017 (4th Sunday of Advent)

Today’s gift that we take out of the box on this 4th Sunday of Advent is the inn keeper who is usually not included in any of the manger scenes. The inn keeper symbolizes you and me. We don’t know a whole lot about the inn keeper from the Christmas story, but we do know that he was not that far away from the miracle of Christ’s birth. 

Do you see yourself in the Christmas story?  Or do you see Christmas as only something that is meant for everyone else and not for you in a personal way?

Pastor Robert shared about a children’s Christmas pageant in which the inn keeper went off script. As Mary and Joseph were about to leave after hearing there was no room for them, the little boy who was playing the part of the inn keeper said, “Wait a minute! You can have my room!”

Like the little boy who added the line in the Christmas play, how can we make room for the Christ Child to be born in us?

Pastor Robert shared three ways that we can open the gift of ourselves this Christmas. These include 1) slowing down 2) remembering what is most important this Christmas season and 3) having a personal daily devotional time.

Which of these three ways of opening the gift of ourselves do you want to focus on this Christmas season. Remember, the Christmas season lasts twelve days from Christmas Eve through January 6 (Epiphany.)