Published: Saturday, 26 December 2015

completoThis short sermon was presented by Geoff Pound at the Christmas Day Service at the Ashburton Baptist Church, 25 December 2015.

Reading: Luke 2:1-20

About two years ago my wife and I walked the Camino from the Pyrenees in France to the Spanish city of Santiago.

Probably because of the popular movie entitled The Way, there were plenty of others who had the same idea.

I’ll never forget one Friday early on our walk. We got to our destination in the middle of the afternoon.

Because a pilgrimage encourages you to live in the moment we had neither a detailed itinerary nor booked accommodation. We turned up at a pilgrim hostel and they said, ‘Completo’, full up.

When we tried another, the person said that all the accommodation in the town was completely booked out. Sunday was Mother’s Day in Spain and many families were treating their Mums to a weekend away.

We asked, “What shall we do?” He advised, “Go on to the next town.” We’d already walked 24 kilometres and the next big town was another 15 kilometres further on. As we walked we thought, bigger town, more hotels and more beds. We hadn’t calculated that there’d also be more people.

But when we arrived, we went to the pilgrim places and we kept hearing this word, ‘Completo’. Lyn said, ‘This is the one Spanish word I never want to hear again.”

It was getting dark and we were now going to the more expensive B&Bs but they were all full. I tell you, we were praying hard. We were praying with desperation. We got to our last option. We walked into the bar in this flash hotel, everyone dressed like a million dollars and we both looked disheveled with our walking gear, packs and me with half a beard. They ushered us out as quickly as they could say, ‘Completo’.

We walked slowly out of town feeling tired, lonely and absolutely abandoned even by a God who couldn’t provide one bed for a Baptist pastor and his wife. For the effectiveness of our prayer life we scored a major FAIL.

We spotted a stand of trees across the field and under these we spread out a poncho for a ground sheet and went to bed wearing all of our clothes plus another poncho on the top. We went to bed but not to sleep.
We hadn’t read the chapter in the Lonely Planet Guide about safety and with every toot of a car horn and every howl of a wild animal we clung to each other and said, ‘How did we ever get ourselves into this?’

Our Christmas story commences with the news of a couple arriving in a town that was jam-packed. They’d come for a Government census.

Can you imagine the Turnbull government instigating a census and demanding that we all had to travel this weekend to the town or the suburb of our birth and all born in other countries had to go and register in Canberra? Can you imagine the uproar?

But this was an edict from the Emperor in Rome. Palestine was under occupation. With the Emperor there were no ifs and buts. No special dispensation just because you’re expecting a baby.

Sometimes we hear, that politics and religion shouldn’t mix. Here we find this sour cocktail right from the birth of this religious leader. Politics is already shaping the location and the circumstances of his birth. Later his passionate preaching would threaten political leaders and ultimately he was to be tried by the Governor and executed by the state.

So we read that Joseph and his fiancée had to travel from Nazareth to his birthplace in Bethlehem. Can you picture heavily pregnant Mary waddling the 26 kilometres? No wonder the artists have her seated on a donkey but a donkey is no Phar Lap! Trotting on a donkey is uncomfortable and bound to bring on her labour.

If I was writing this story I’d be tempted to highlight the bumbling bureaucracy in staging a census requiring everyone to return home, the lack of compassion of the government officials in demanding that pregnant women must travel.

But Luke tweets with bald simplicity and economy of words, v7:

2:7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

So we imagine the congested roads, the ‘No Vacancy’ signs and the monotonous response, ‘Completo’—‘No room’.

The artists picture this family in a stable, surrounded by animals and this new born baby lying in a cow’s lunch box.

Isn’t there something powerfully symbolic about the way this family was shunted to a barn out the back. Such a foreshadowing of the rejection he’d experience all his life. And stables are messy, smelly places, so this birthplace was preparing him for all the excrement he was to encounter in his life.

In this year we’ve seen record numbers of people forced from their homeland because of war. Men and women, seniors and infants taking boats and walking hundreds of miles in search of freedom.

We’ve seen such grief, such courage and such hope. There’s something in this Christmas story that connects and speaks, this family on the move, the lack of hospitality and the sheer vulnerability of giving birth out the back.

Soon after when wise men come with news of a baby born who is to be King, King Herod decrees that all children in and around Bethlehem, two years and under were to be killed. (Matt. 2: 16) Another mad tyrant, this butcher from Bethlehem.

So urged in a dream, this young family flees their country and goes to Egypt. What a start this young child has in life. And what comfort, what solidarity this family gives, to all refugees and people seeking asylum.

Today we celebrate that “into this world, this demented inn, where there was absolutely no room for him at all, Christ comes uninvited.”

Today we celebrate God’s gift of life, the birth of a Saviour who would teach us to welcome the stranger and make this world a better place.

So let us make room.
Let Christ be born in the quiet and innermost spaces of our hearts.

So let us make room.
Let Christ be born in the streets, in the fire and flood ravaged places and in regions torn by war.

So let us make room.
Let Christ be born, not far away in distant ages but in every heart and every home where love and faith are growing.

So let us make room.
Let Christ be born. Let Christ be welcomed.
And find in us his Bethlehem.