Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Luke 1:38
Tomorrow is pageant Sunday at St. John’s. Our children will present “Journey to Bethlehem” and will not only tell, but embody the story of Christmas. It’s the best way for them to learn and wonderful tradition here at St. John’s. I am sure it will be lovely. As we await that one, there’s another pageant I want to tell you about.
There once was a boy named Wallace Purling, who was nine years old and only in second grade. He was big and clumsy – slow in movement and mind. Still, Wally was well liked by the other children in his class, though the boys had trouble hiding their irritation when he asked to play ball with them. Most often they’d find a way to keep him out of their games, but Wally would hang around anyway, just hoping. He was a helpful boy, willing and smiling, and a natural protector of the underdog. When the older boys chased the younger ones away, it was always Wally who said, “Can’t they stay? They’re no bother.”
Wally wanted to be a shepherd with a flute in the Christmas pageant that year, but the play’s director assigned him a more important role. The Innkeeper didn’t have many lines and Wally’s size would make his refusal of lodging to Joseph and Mary more forceful.
A large crowd of supportive families gathered and the play began with Wallace Purling standing in the wings watching with fascination. Joseph appeared, slowly and tenderly guiding Mary, and knocked hard on the wooden door set into the painted backdrop.
“What do you want?” Wally the Innkeeper said brusquely, swinging the door open.
“We seek lodging,” was Joseph’s reply.
“There’s no room here.” Wally replied, looking straight ahead.
“Sir, we’ve asked everywhere. There’s no room. We’re tired. My wife is heavy with child. Surely you must have some corner for us to rest?”
For the first time, the Innkeeper looked down at Mary. There was a long pause – long enough to make the audience tense with embarrassment. “No! Be gone!” the prompter whispered from the wings.
“No!” Wally repeated. “Be gone!”
Sadly, Joseph placed his arm around Mary, who laid her head on her husband’s shoulder as the two of them began to move wearily away. Wally stood in the doorway, watching the exhausted couple. His mouth was open, his brow creased with concern, his eyes filling unmistakably with tears. Suddenly, this Christmas pageant became different from all others.
“Don’t go, Joseph,” Wally cried out. “Bring Mary back.” Breaking into a broad, bright smile, Wally added, “You can have my room!”
About half the folks thought the pageant was ruined, but the other half thought it was the best Christmas pageant they had ever seen.[i]
“You can have my room!” It’s what Mary says today. And not just my room, my womb, my life, my heart, my love – everything! Martin Luther called Mary’s “yes to God” the greatest of miracles. He wrote, “The Virgin birth is a mere trifle of God; that God should become man is a greater miracle; but most amazing of all is it that this maiden should credit the announcement that she, rather than some other virgin, had been chosen to be the mother of God…had she not believed, she could not have conceived.” He goes on, “She held fast to the word of the angel because she had become a new creation.”[ii] Mary says, “yes” – let it be with me according to your word. Blessed by grace-filled favor, even though she is perplexed and a tad confused by how all of this will happen, Mary hears that “nothing will be impossible with God” and says, “yes, let it be.”
So Wallace Purling gives the Holy Family his room. And Mary her life, becoming the mother of God. But what about you and me? Will we open our homes, our hearts? This past week on facebook I saw a posting with a picture of a woman, a man and a manger in a tent next to a building and a star about with words, “Each of us is an innkeeper who decides if there is room for Jesus.”[iii] I posted it because honestly I don’t know what I would do if such a family turned up at my door seeking shelter during this most busy of holiday seasons? Would I give them a warm welcome or respond, I’m just too busy for company right now? Come back after the first of the year and I’ll see what we can do. I might hand them a bag of cookies to alleviate any residual guilt. What about you?
So often I think we want a faith that fits our lifestyle, doesn’t expect too much or get in the way of things – faith as a spiritual icing on the cake of our lives. A faith affirms us, but doesn’t challenge, blesses, but doesn’t demand. The problem is that faith that asks for nothing and delivers little in return. It lacks depth and in the face of death, fails to bear life. And yet it’s what we are all too often content with – a faith of low expectations, for us and for God.
But that is not what God wants for us. God has audacious expectations, for God invites us all to be mothers of God, bearers of the Holy One. Mesiter Eckhart, a medieval mystic and theologian, asked it like this, “What good is it to me, if this eternal birth of the divine Son takes place unceasingly but does not take place within myself? And, what good is it to me if Mary is full of grace if I am not also full of grace? What good is it to me for the Creator to give birth to his Son if I do not also give birth to him in my time and my culture? This, then is the fullness of time: when the Son of God is begotten in us.”[iv]
Begotten in us! But surely this is impossible. Doesn’t God know us? I mean just a few minutes ago we were all on our knees confessing us to God – our failures, our short-coming and screw-ups – the whole sinful mess. Wasn’t God paying attention? Us, bearers of God? We’re barely functioning, especially with all the demands and expectations of this season! The Son of God, begotten in you and me?
Maybe it was Gabriel’s statement, “for nothing will be impossible with God” that allowed Mary to believe that she, “rather than some other virgin had been chosen to be the mother of God.” Because, nothing is impossible with God. Now this doesn’t mean that God will do anything and everything. It means that God will do this thing. Which makes everything else possible.”[v] Everything, including that the Son of God is begotten in you and me!
So listen again to the Gospel, “Greetings, favored ones! The Lord is with you. Do not be afraid. For nothing will be impossible with God.” Amen.
[i] Wallace Purling in Dina Donahue’s radiant Christmas story “Trouble at the Inn” (found, for example, in Joe Wheeler, ed., Christmas in My Heart: A Timeless Treasury of Heartwarming Stories [Doubleday, 1996], pp. 41–45). Listen:
[ii] Martin Luther, The Martin Luther Christmas Book, translated and arranged by Roland H. Bainton, Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1968, 21.
[iv]Meister Eckhart as quoted by Barbara Taylor Brown, Gospel Medicine, “Mothers of God”, Boston: Cowley Publications, 1995, 153.
[v]William F. Brosend II, New Proclamation, “Fourth Sunday in Advent”, Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2005, 33.