"What child is this who laid to rest
On Mary's lap is sleeping..."
Every once in a while I find myself thinking, “I wish Jesus had not said that.” Some of his commands seem impossible. Love your enemies? Forgive seventy times seven. Turn the other cheek. Walk two miles when your enemy forces you to walk one mile.
A whole lot of church folk tiptoe around a great deal that Jesus said. We all have a selective understanding. But there is no selectivity in Jesus’ words. Take for example the outsider. He talked about welcoming the stranger. He talked about loving others—not just our own kind. He made heroes out of the strangest characters: a woman at the well, a despised tax collector, Samaritans, little children, Judas and even a thief on the cross.
Could we possibly put down some of Jesus’ words beside this growing population of the undocumented? There are 11 million people we call illegal living in our country. These folk are everywhere. Building houses, cleaning homes, doing yard work, keeping the chicken factories going. Many of our farmers would be hard pressed if we sent many of their workers back home. Reckon the Innkeeper’s story in Bethlehem has anything to do with all the people who have found their way into our country?
Their plight reminds me of another crowded time that we keep coming back to every Christmas season. A young boy volunteered to be in his church’s Christmas pageant. The Director wondered what to do with this squirmy boy that had never been in any pageant. Little and inexperienced, they finally gave him the part of the Innkeeper. Over and over he rehearsed his lines: “There is no room in the inn.” The Director instructed him: "Don't be afraid. Just speak loud and distinctly. You'll be great." Finally on the night of the play the Organist began to play: “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” This was the cue for the shepherds to come clunking down the aisle in their bathrobes. Next three small kings came forward with their jars of Merle Norman, Mary Kaye and Old Spice. Then a little girl, wrapped in blue walked down the aisle, another bath-robed character held her hand. Joseph helped little Mary up the risers. Then he knocked on the door of a makeshift inn. The door opened and he asked the Innkeeper for a room. Tiny Joseph explained they had come a long way and that his weary wife was expecting a baby any time. The little boy who had practiced diligently for weeks said his part perfectly, “There is no room in the inn.” The couple said nothing but turned and walked down the risers and moved toward the back door. The boy-inn-keeper was dumbfounded. Before the couple could leave the room he yelled, “Come back. Come back. You can have my room!”
Can we move over and give these people who have come to America a place to be? That’s the painful question. They have real faces and real needs. Forget politics—we’ve shuffled these people around like a football. Most came here looking for a better life. Many encountered all sorts of obstacles just to get here. Some desperate families, afraid for their children paid more money than they could afford to send their little ones to safety.
A great many matters Jesus talked about complicates our lives. But to find ways to take these strangers in we may just discover the most unlikely of surprises. When we reach out to the stranger we just might see the face of Jesus. Not only at Christmas but all the days that follow. I keep remembering the words of the little boy in the pageant, “Come back---you can have my room.” One thing Jesus did say was this: a little child shall lead them. I think he was right.
Almighty God, who now in thy Son art ever ready to bestow upon us thy very life, give us grace so to receive thy gift that we may bear in our own hearts that immemorial pain which is thy yearning for all mankind. Through him that is born Jesus, the Christ and our Lord. Amen.