Sermon: Unexpected Advent


On Sunday morning, December 6, 1964, Oklahoma City made some startling and shocking news. A thirty-one year-old mother gave birth to a child on the sidewalk at the corner of Sheridan and Broadway. A curious crowd “watched without helping” (the newspaper said). Meanwhile the woman and her baby lay on the pavement for about forty-five minutes in freezing temperatures.

It was a visitor from Tulsa who finally summoned a taxi. But the cab arrived, and the driver saw mother and child, he refused to take them to the hospital. The stranger trying to help then called the police, but to no avail. During that time the new mother and infant lay on the sidewalk, two patrol cars passed the scene and neither one stopped.

Finally a former state representative happened to pass by that corner, saw the situation, and stopped and called the fire department for an ambulance. He also sent a man across the street to a hotel to borrow some blankets; but the porter at the hotel refused to lend any out.

At long last, a rescue squad arrived. But while still waiting for an ambulance, Captain Bill Latham of the fire department and the former representative, Bob Cunningham, decided to take mother and child to the hospital in Cunningham’s car. And so they did.

 

But, who would have ever believed that such a story, which was heralded across America on Monday, December 7, 1964—and no doubt around the world—could ever have happened in this country, so reminiscent of another nativity scene in ancient Bethlehem 2,000 years before, when another woman was heavy with child?

“And she gave birth to her first-born son,” as Luke 2:7 says, “and wrapped him in swaddling cloths, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.”

Apparently the world wasn’t ready for the advent of such an unexpected birth, not in Bethlehem 2,000 years ago, or in Oklahoma City 52 years ago.

I don’t know, are we ever really ready for the birth of a child?

All physicians’ prophecy aside, babies have a funny way of arriving according to their own time schedules. And, without any doubt, God’s unique timing about such things is always predictably unpredictable.

But, then, that’s just like our God, though, isn’t it?

To come into someone’s life in a way that is so powerfully disruptive, that all one can do is throw up one’s hands and dutifully toss out any other well-laid plans and simply surrender oneself in faith.

Even though God Himself had been planning this Messiah birth thing from Day One, and talking about it, through various prophets and a wide variety of other kinds of signs for literally thousands of years.

And yet, despite all the millennia of headlines and bylines, this Child arrived both unlooked for and unexpected.

As John’s Gospel bluntly puts it, “He was in the world and the world was made through Him, yet the world knew Him not. He came to his own home and his own people received him not.”

I suppose we could still ask ourselves the same question today: Is the world today prepared for the advent of the Christ? Are we ready for the surprising ways that Jesus comes into our lives?

Have we really made room for Christ in our lives?

 

There was a class of third-graders were putting on a Christmas pageant one year. It was to be the story of Jesus’ birth, and the teacher wanted to include all of her students in the play. So she gave everyone some part to play. Among her students was a boy who stood about a head taller than anyone else in class: Wally. Wally was kind of a shy, goofy kid. But had a heart as big as all outdoors. The teacher thought Wally would make an imposing Innkeeper. It was a good part, and it only had one line for Wally to remember, “Go away. There’s no room in the inn.”

The night of the Christmas play came, and the show was going very well. Then it came to that part where Joseph and Mary were making their way through the night seeking lodging. They trudged wearily across the stage to the door of the inn. Where upon knocking, Wally the innkeeper swung the door open on cue. “Please, sir,” said Joseph, “We are tired and my wife is heavy with child, could we stay at your inn tonight?”

Wally, putting on his best scowl, perfectly delivered his line, “No, Go away. There’s no room in the inn.”

But, then, as the Joseph and Mary figures retreated sadly back across the stage, you could see Wally’s countenance begin to soften, and by the time the couple had disappeared from sight, stage left, something happened that made this pageant different from all the rest.

“Wait a minute,” Wally blurted out, off script, and then as a broad smile spread across his face announced, “You can have my room!”
In order to make room for Jesus at Christmas, there may be times we need to go off the script a bit. Our lives are filled with so many roles and responsibilities to meet; last minute shopping; the exchanging of gifts; hosting of parties – the supreme focus on all the material stuff that always happens this time of the year.

Actually making room for Christ might mean making some sacrifices; giving up something: a little time, space on a busy calendar, our pride in self-reliance, the presumption that we always know what’s best for us.

When we look into our own hearts, we all know those places in our lives where we’ve been needing to create some space for Christ.

Christmas gives us a unique opportunity to think outside-the-neatly-wrapped-box in order to give ourselves a chance to truly receive, and share, God’s gifts of peace, hope, joy and love.

 

The Eastern Orthodox Church calls Mary “the God-bearer”, “who consented to carry, give birth to, nurse and raise the Son of God. Mary was the only one in the world who was ever drafted to do so. And yet, as one preacher said, “it is hard to hear her story without hearing more than a little of our own.”

 

A Christmas card a dear friend sent me declared, “Mary held the God of Love in her arms, that we might hold the Love of God in our hearts.”

Now, some two thousand years after Christ’s birth, we all have the chance to be God-bearers; by being ready to share the advent of Christ and his gifts with an uncertain world in unexpected ways.

 

“We are all meant to be mothers of God,” wrote medieval mystic Meister Eckhart. “What good is it to me,” he wrote, “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.”

 

A young pastor friend of mine, Francis, told me about the time when their first son, Adrian, was born. Until then, he and his wife, Selinda, had done pretty much whatever they wanted to do: went wherever they wanted to go, spent time together whenever they wanted.

They were a gloriously happy young twosome.

“Then the baby came and changed everything!” Francis said. “His hunger pains interrupted our sleeping patterns. Both of us were tired and grouchy all the time. For a full six months after the baby was born, if one of us ever got a full nights sleep, he or she became the object of the other one’s hatred for the day. No small indulgent self-kindnesses went guilt free.

Taking time for one’s self was simply not an option.

“And there were nights,” said Francis, “when Adrian kept crying and crying and just refused  to be comforted or go to sleep, that I would have to run from his bedside, go into another room and scream into a pillow (and the beat the stuffing out of said pillow).

“My wife and I found ourselves desperately looking forward to that time when he got a little older and could finally sleep through the night.

“…And then he started to crawl…”

“At some point,” my young friend proclaimed, “Selinda and I just stopped fighting it and decided that things were never going to be the same. We were just going to have to stop living for ourselves and start living our lives for someone else. Having a baby turned our life upside-down. And no amount of planning could have fully prepared us for the reality.”

“It was,” Francis concluded, ‘basically the end of life as we knew it.” But, my friend added, living one’s life for another was also the beginning of a life more wonderful than they could have ever previously imagined.

Couldn’t the same be said for every Christian into whose life Christ is born? Doesn’t it always come as an unexpected intrusion, even when long hope-for? Does it not turn everything upside-down and inside-out? Does it not change everything; by charging and challenging us to forget about living life for ourselves; henceforth to find our lives within the life of Another?

Indeed, the Advent of the Christ Child is the end of life as we have known it. But it is also the beginning of a life beyond our wildest dreams.

Should we choose to embrace it.